The sound of a sinful angel making amends with the world and himself.
Michael Quinn 2008-11-14
If you haven’t encountered Malcolm Holcombe before, the perfect opportunity has just presented itself in Gamblin' House, his fourth album and debut long-player for Echo Mountain Records.
Renowned for live performances that glow with gospel fervour in a voice that has been described as ''half howl, half hosanna'', Holcombe deports himself with all the untethered phrasing of Joe Cocker and the rasping, gravedigger's growl of Tom Waits. And a compelling sound it is, too, one that insinuates itself into the senses as it assaults the ears.
But where Holcombe hitherto has seemed an Old Testament, fire-and-brimstone prophet railing against iniquity, Gamblin' House, for all the righteous accusatory indignation on evidence in the title track and You Don’t Come See Me Anymore, balances the bleak with the bright in the loving ballast of two hymnals to marriage, Cynthia Margaret and Baby Likes a Love Song.
And in between, fired by a peculiarly potent amalgam of bluegrass, frontiers country and blood-and-dust folk, with glancing references to Dylan and Townes van Zandt thrown in for good measure – what Rolling Stone magazine called, ''a kind of blues in motion mapping backwoods corners of the heart'' – you'll find a surprising tenderness within unguarded confessionals like I'd Rather Have A Home and the cryptically intense Blue Flame.
Holcombe's calloused soul and gravel-encrusted voice may seem like an acquired taste at first encounter, but in its raw, unmediated honesty it is also an intensely addictive one.
A Top Ten hit in the Americana Music Association Chart, Gamblin' House is the sound of a sinful angel making amends with the world and himself.