Malcolm Holcombe is easily recognizable with a voice that sounds like sand-blasted gravel and that voice tends to divides opinion. However there is no doubting his writing talent and the respect that his peers have for him. On his latest (his ninth) album he is joined by such notable musicians as Ken Coomer, Russ Pahl, Tammy Rogers and Darrell Scott, with vocalists Kim Richey, Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris all of whom acknowledge Holcombe’s skills as a writer and performer.
There is anger, frustration and understanding in these songs and the music underscores these fragmented emotions. Twisted Arms has a tough hard edge and some cutting guitar, while by way of contrast, the next track The Door has a gentler acoustic edge with steel guitar. That contrast runs through the album with Holcombe's song alternatively full of understanding for the lives of others or howling in rage at the injustice, imbalance and greed that exists at many levels of society.
Some song are stripped back to a bed of voice and guitar, with subtle atmospherics. Holcome uses his guitar as another means to bring his country-blues based songs to life. The Empty Jar uses strings behind the voice and guitar to lend a sense of hope. In Your Mercy, has a beauty and the beast aspect with Holcombe's gritty voice contrasting with Emmylou Harris' clear voice - a pairing that works well. Steve Earle plays harmonica and trades verses on Trail of Money which contains the lines *"My instincts are wounded, my schools bleed with guns, my children are recklessly, lost in the sun" as a sample of his distaste for the corporate greed that runs through society at many levels. Those who have heard and seen Malcolm Holcombe will not need encouragement to seek this out; others should check him out on his site and on Youtube. Holcombe is a true troubadour, a truth teller and a man with human frailties that are reflected in his music. Ray Kennedy's production has given this album a sound and structure that makes it one of Holcombe's best and well worth exploring its rivers and tributaries.