Reviews by Stephen Rapid


Rod Picott ‘Fortune’ - Welding Rod

At this point, some eight albums into his career, Rod Picott is something of a veteran of the trials and tribulations that face the independent working troubadour. A lifestyle that is often not conducive to steady relationships or a settled life. But what it does is to give Picott a personal insight into the lives he sees around him, as well as his own. Such events that occur are distilled into a set of songs that speak true to the turmoil and equal tenderness that we all can encounter along the way. 

The first song here, is Maybe That’s What It Takes, allows that the knocks received can often be a catalyst to something else. Equally This World Is a Dangerous Place sums up the caution required to navigate through an uneven path. I Was Not Worth Your Love admonishes a former partner for trying to make him something he wasn’t until the relationship turned him into something that ironically might have fit the requirements. 

Later in the album things get a little more positive in outlook with I’m On Your Side but overall the gaze is cast downward. Uncle John refers to a relative who was a charachter but with whom he no longer has any contact. Jeremiah is also about loss. Spare Change shows how a little money might have helped in certain situations. These are songs that on the surface might seem to be drawing down the darkness. Something perhaps summed up by a line in Drunken Barber’s Hand (“…this world has been shaved by a drunken barber’s hand” - something it is not hard to agree with). However Picott has enough inbuilt humanity in his music to make these songs a simple, life-affirming experience.

Produced by Picott and Neilson Hubbard it has a a selection of players will to make these songs work in a stripped back but effective way. Will Kimbrough is a player well used to using his talent to best find the emotion of the songs. He is joined by the rhythm section of Lex Price and Hubbard himself on drums. They create a suitably unsettled setting for these songs which are essentially built around Picott’s voice and nylon stringed guitar. The end result is one Picott can be justifiably be proud of and one that draws the listener in to, in turn, get much out of.

Johnny Selfish & The Worried Men ‘Calle Salvaje’ - Rivertale

This Italian band have made a joyous, uptempo fun album that they describe as a tribute to inspirations such as Hank Williams Sr, Ennio Morricone and Mano Negra as well as movie heroes like Clint Eastwood and Sam Peckinpah. This is the bands fourth album. A nine track mix of covers and what I assume are original songs (as there are no writing credits included). The covers include Williams’ Alone and Forsaken and the Bill Monroe associated A.P. Carter song Working On A Building. These songs are delivered in English while others such as Vaquerito and El Gringo are in Spanish.

There is a mix of instruments used from electric guitar, banjo, double bass through to kazoo and Mariachi-styled trumpets. The end result is varied enough to keep the whole thing moving along in a spirited, almost Pogues-like folk/punk take on their influences. There nothing particularly ground breaking going on here, rather it is the spirit and energy with which the songs are performed that makes it a diverting listen and one that should bring a smile to your face. Can’t ask for a lot more than that sometimes.

Malcolm Holcombe ‘Another Black Hole’ - Proper

Following hot on the heels of his RCA sessions album comes this new one from Mr. Holcombe. He seems very prolific of late with a whole bunch of new songs delivered in that battered, gritty and distinctive voice that is uniquely his. It is a folk/blues Americana mix that brings together his usual crew of Ken Coomer, Jared Tayler and Dave Roe alongside Drea Merritt on some vocal harmonies and Tony Joe White on some swampy guitar.

Those who know (and love) Holcombe’s work will be happy to get know these new songs. As in the past there are others who can’t get passed the voice. All has been brought together by Brian Brinkerhoff and Ray Kennedy’s sturdy production. The latter also engineered, mixed and mastered the album. The playing through is top notch and gives added depth and texture to these songs that look up to the sky and higher, from a position that is much closer to the street and those that live there. People who may just get by, who have few expectations but somehow manage to see some grace. This feeling may well be summed up in Siobhan Maher-Kennedy’s cover illustration.

The hard-scrabble blues on offer may not appeal to all but it has dignity and a purpose and the assembled players know how to bring the tales of woe to a sunnier side of the street even if Holcombe’s voice seems to sit on the grittier side of Tom Waits. He offers nothing here but his own truth and his hard held beliefs and some very credible music. Something that has always given Malcolm Holcombe his edge with his coterie of admirers and friends.

Jimmy Ruggiere ‘A Heartache Couldn’t Happen To A Nicer Guy’ - Blue Streak

A harmonica player who recorded a lot with Travis Tritt steps up the the centre mic for his debut album. The album is produced in Austin, Texas by Chris Gage. Gage is a multi-instrumentalist who is no stranger to the studio as artist, player or producer. He has gathered together some equally seasoned players such as Paul Percy on drums and percussion, Warren Hood on fiddle and Lloyd Maines on pedal steel to bring their individual talents to these self-written songs.

Ruggiere has a solid warm vocal style that may not be a totally distinctive one but is one well able to deliver his songs, which fall into an easy to like feel but also ones that have their fair share of heartbreak themes. As witnessed by songs like the title song, I Want To Wake Up Stoned and I Cried All The Way To Fort Worth. There are songs that find him wanting to get back to his lady (Ninety Miles From Nashville) as well a tribute to a man who was an important part of everyone’s life - not just Ruggiere’s (Going Home to Say Goodbye To Dad).

He is obviously a skilled harmonica player and the instrument features throughout the album to good effect as does his acoustic guitar. There are a mix of tempos over the album as well as some nice textures from Jimmy Shortell’s trumpet, c overing different moods in Sunday’s Broken, which has a late night feel, or the border overtones of There’s One Too Many Pretty Girls in Tucson.

A Heartache Couldn’t Happen To A Nicer Guy is an accessible and easy listen given its’ undemanding or non-edgy style of country music. In itself it is one that would please a wide audience with it’s solid production, playing and personality. Jimmy Ruggiere comes across as a man who enjoys making this music as much as many will enjoy hearing it. So any success his debut album might find likely couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Malcolm Holcombe ‘The RCA Sessions’ - Proper

The sandpapered vocals of Malcolm Holcombe have become his trademark. That voice however delivers some insightful songs that highlight the human condition in the way that the best of the old school blues men did. Bare bones emotions given some meat by Holcombe and his set of fine players who bring to these songs their individual spirit and musicianship. When these players are Ken Coomer, Tammy Rogers, Dave Roe and Jared Tyler you can count on them being right there with the songs. As is Holcombe, a man who put himself into the soul of these songs. Songs that are, for the most part, taken from his numerous previous albums but given the added impetuous of the historic studio location and the collective strength of the assembled musicians. The 16 songs run to over an hour and they serve as a perfect introduction to Holcombe’s music being as it is something of a summation of a career that has found him praised by admirers but also damned by some reviewers who do not take to his voice and rustic delivery.

There are a couple of vocal sweeteners involved too with Maura O’Connell and Siobhan Maher-Kennedy joining Holcombe on one track each. Jelly Roll Johnson adds his harmonica prowess to an additional track. Producers Ray Kennedy and Brian Brinkerhoff use the famed location and the assembled musicians to bring the best out of Holcombe and his Appalachian folk/delta blues influenced songs that come from hard times, hard places but not a heard heart. The darkness inherent is lightened by the humanity that exists in many of the songs and within the grace that Holcombe has attained through the years.

Having listened to Malcolm Holcombe through the years I don’t need to be convinced of his sincerity or musical worth. This album should go a long way to convince all but the most Simon Cowell-esque of you, those who can only attach merit to a “perfect” vocal. Life is not like that so thank God for those voices that reveal something more rewarding that perfect pitch. That’s always a thing to admire in itself but not the sum total of what the voice is capable of delivering in terms of emotion or storytelling.

The deluxe version has a DVD that captures the occasion and offers insight into the recording process and a legendary studio. There are interviews with the players express their thoughts on Holcombe’s songs and his energy in the studio. An audio/visual experience that offers both in full.

Malcolm Holcombe 'Pitiful Blues' - Self release

     Those who are acquainted with Holcombe knows his ragged sandpaper worn world weary voice and songs that draw from the depths of pain and gritty hope. To capture the real moment of these songs they were raw recordings done live in a small home studio and the musicians were then added later in the process. The result manages to capture the essence of Holcombe while adding the depth of the additional musicians. This proves to be a worthwhile process and makes for something that may well be easier to assimilate that a purely solo situation might otherwise elicit.
     Again these are all original songs, tales of the haunted souls and moments of enlightenment. Songs like Savannah Blues, Words Not Spoken and the title track are deep, hurting blues that are perfectly enunciated by Holcombe’s lived in voice.
     Co-produced by Holcombe and long time collaborator Jared Tyler the result is one of the finest of his albums to date and something that those who have previously encountered the man live or recorded will be happy to have. This, his latest instalment of his real expression of pain and real emotions. Music made from the need to express some humanity in a world that is more usually about something more superficial.


Malcolm Holcombe 'Down The River' - Self-Release

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.

Malcolm Holcombe 'To Drink The Rain' Music Road

Something of an old hand after several albums. Holcombe has again brought his craggy well-lived in voice and philosophical song into the public domain. Those acquainted with Holcombe's previous work will be again happy have more of it to make their own. That he has been able to continue making albums, mostly on different labels, is something to be thankful for, especially when they are as good as this. Here he is backed by a collection of sympathetic players such as Dave Roe and is produced by Jared Tyler. The setting is largely acoustic and natural with subtle playing that allows the fiddle, upright bass, unobtrusive drums, dobro and acoustic guitar the space to make an understated but rich musical tapestry. This is obvious on the bluegrass tinged Behind The Number One or Down In The Woods. Comes The Blues draws from another well, one that Holcombe's voice and musical direction accommodates easily, a slow talking blues. He is a songwriter and singer much praised by the likes of Lucinda Williams and Mary Gauthier both of whom write their songs from a very personal and also observational viewpoint and using a blend of roots music to make them believable. Becky's Blessed is a compassionate portrait of another person humanity. Those Who Wander is typically understanding of the rover and their restlessness. Where I Don't Belong continues that theme in a striking uptempo setting. Reckon To The Wind is more reflective but equally memorable. The closing song sums up Malcolm Holcombe. One Man Singin' closes what may be one of his finest albums, one that fans will enjoy and those who have never discovered Holcombe before will find some new music that will make an impression that will last.