taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder


reviews of the moment



MALCOLM HOLCOMBE — To Drink the Rain

You simply can’t fake a voice like the one Malcolm Holcombe possesses. It’s the ripe old product of genuine world-weariness and self-inflicted hardship, but at the same time as comforting as a glass of good whiskey. Yet, aside from a hardcore group of fans and journalists scattered across the Appalachian music-loving world, it’s amazing how little attention the Swannanoa-born country-blues crooner still receives to this day. He’s been compared in the past to everyone from Tom Waits to John Prine to Guy Clark, bearing the distinctive traits of all three. On his eighth album To Drink the Rain, Holcombe finds a voice he’s never quite known on any of his other records: contentment. Holcombe has come close to singing his way to the grave a la Townes Van Zandt or Hank Williams, but now many years sober, his songs reflect a man who enjoys the simple things in life without the blurry perspective. “Put on those britches one leg at a time,” he sings on the cheerful ragtime blues opener “One Leg at a Time.” He slows it down on the waltz “Mountains of Home,” but the theme of simplicity persists. Holcombe’s propensity to bounce from producer to producer has led him to his own long-time dobro player Jared Taylor, whose clean production is not the anathema to his subject’s raggedy voice that has dredged past records. There’s a beautiful contrast between Holcombe’s haggardness and violinist Luke Bulla crisp string work that comes most pointedly on the title track, Holcombe’s most visceral on the record. Otherwise, there’s little sonic variance on To Drink the Rain, just effortless playing and plenty of space for Holcombe’s personally to assert itself.


Malcolm Holcombe plays the Blind Tiger on Friday.