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Review: Music

Malcolm Holcombe

Malcolm Holcombe

Admiral Bar, Glasgow

Rob Adams

They threw away the mould when they made Malcolm Holcombe. It's a mould that, if anybody wanted to reconstitute it, would need ingredients somewhere between Townes Van Zandt and Michael Marra. Holcombe certainly has the country blues sensibility of the former and the liking for the absurd, as well as something of the vocal rasp and offbeat audience engagement, of the latter, and yet he has deeper connections.

While the North Carolinan's albums are sweetened, to a degree, by adding production niceties including dobro, electric guitar, fiddle and voices such as Emmylou Harris's on the recent Down the River, what you get with Holcombe onstage with just his voice and guitar is something akin to what you would have got with blues ancients of Robert Johnson or Blind Willie McTell's stamp.

His guitar playing is magnificent, paying little heed to conventional techniques but spitting out an unstoppable, hard-driving, piston-like momentum with stinging, singing grace notes and converging with his voice to create that sense of oneness between physical being and musical instrument that gave those rural blues masters such power and conviction.

Holcombe's songs lean slightly more towards the Appalachian tradition than the Mississippi Delta, although in Straight and Tall he also comes close to Tin Pan Alley style.

Whatever their provenance, they're story songs, told in straight-talking but still poetic images, in a performing style that makes few concessions to marketing and often forgoes applause as he strings together the country song charm of Gone By the Old Sunrise with the dark and devastating Butcher in Town.

In short, he doesn't just sing songs, he lives them.

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