I don't get out nearly enough, but I made an exception for Malcolm Holcombe. The folk singer stopped by The Evening Muse in Charlotte a couple weeks ago for a live show.
Holcombe is a Appalachian singer-songwriter through and through. He was born in Weaverville, N.C., a modest town outside of Asheville, and many of his songs are reflective of his mountain upbringing and a time before there was such a term as "Americana."
Spotify recommended him to me a few years back and restored my faith in algorithms. Right away, I was captivated by his gravelly, worn-leather voice and a wild, deep-throated style that commands every bit of his soul. And his songs take on an underdog ethos that pulls no punches.
I mean, the guy makes his in-breaths a crucial, emotive part of his songs. You don't hear that nowadays when singers follow the "Chocolate Rain" model and back away from the mic when they take a breath. Holcombe would have none of that shit. There ain't no hiding where he comes from.
Holcombe had been on a hot streak when I came across him, releasing records nearly every year to a cult following. I'd meant to catch him a year or so ago, but his touring was put on hold due to health problems in a pandemic, no less.
I'm pleased to say I got my chance, and the house was full. Holcombe's played the Muse for years and the venue suits him. It's a low-key, exposed-brick, exposed-everything type of joint where outsiders retake the grassroots.
Holcombe wandered out with his guitar, moving slow and gingerly. He was on oxygen with tubes rubbing down his face, dragging some kind of respiratory device at his feet. He plopped himself in a chair and doesn't get up for the rest of his set. This was a man who has seen some shit, and, by God, there's nothing coming between him and this stage.
"I'm so, so fucking glad to be here," Holcombe said.
He made some early banter with the audience and then started playing. Immediately, the apparatus around him fell away. His hands got to finger-picking and thumping, two guitarists in one. Holcombe opened his mouth and sang his ever-living heart out as if nothing else mattered.
His guitar style was an unpredictable blend of fingerpicking, strumming, and percussive flicks and slaps. He alternated between tender moments and rough-housing his axe. And for an hour and change, he was timeless and free.
I've never seen an artist like this, giving everything he has and thensome to his craft, chasing away the demons at his doorstep, just to reach the stage one more time. There's no cheating time, our fickle friend, and no faking him out on the other side, either. But for a brief moment, you can shake him off your tracks and do the very thing you were made for.
Word around the campfire is Holcombe is working on an album for later this year. May some things never change.
And my tongue should turn to stone
The ground will swallow up my bones
Gone by the ol' sunrise
Find more of Holcombe's music and tour dates here.