Many people would argue that Gillian Welch captures all the beauty of Appalachia in her songs and performance. You can hear the clear mountain streams and the fog draped valleys in the simple, haunting melodies she’s known for creating. If that’s the case, then Malcolm Holcombe is the stark reality of last century’s natural resource and the SNAP program. Produced by an insightful Darrell Scott, Pretty Little Troubles lets a coal miner’s poet lyrics make their impact while the instrumental accompaniments keep the songs from turning maudlin.
Good Ole Days leads the pack with a banjo and guitar picking tribute to the fact those days were anything but good. That’s what we reminisce about, though. Damn Weeds is a metaphor for thinking it’s ever going to be the case you can just rest and enjoy the good. The Sky Stood Still is a walking blues number, but surprises with a little classical violin instead of the fiddle solo. The title track gives a kind of Tom Waits treatment to the situation with talking vocals and jazz feeling to the background instruments.
Pretty Little Troubles is not a single topic project, however. Holcombe has been a traveling musician for decades and has the good stories to prove it. South Hampton Street had a displaced gypsy feel to it long before I heard the lyric about the gypsy woman on south Hampton Stree. The Eyes O’ Josephine is a lilting, Celtic tune with a classic broken heart theme. Bury, England documents a gig in the industrial part of the UK where the building “smelled like an old folks home inside” and the coffee the venue provided wasn’t fit for a dog. The dual leads from Holcombe’s guitar and Jared Tyler’s dobro make the travelogue the catchiest song on the record.
Pretty Little Troubles is not a CD you put on for guests at a party. It’s Americana noir. But it will serve to remind you how good your station in life really is. For that, it’s uplifting. Add the no-held-punches of the lyrics and the first rate melodies and it’s an album that adds to any folk collection.
About the author: Support new music. Listen to a band or singer you've never heard of this week. I've been doing that for over 30 years.