It’s a sound you don’t hear much anymore. A man’s voice, tarred by tobacco, scraped by coal dust, and soaked in whiskey, telling tales of hardworking heroes and mysterious spirits in the night. Add musical talent to that and you’ll get songs about life in the rural mountains of America. The gold standard for that sound is Malcolm Holcombe. On his latest album, Come Hell Or High Water, Holcombe gets supplemented by folk singer Greg Brown, and vocally complemented by Brown’s wife, Iris Dement.
The songs on the record are typical Holcombe. I Don’t Want To Disappear narrates the story of the working poor and homeless everywhere and the struggle to matter to society. In the Winter comes from the perspective of being homeless in a northern city, “15 below, 4 days in a row”. Torn And Wrinkled tells of a WWII vet who doesn’t feel relevant, yet his son struggles to live up to him.
A couple of songs elevate the descriptions provided by Holcombe to practically visual art status. Old North Side paints such a vivid picture of an urban neighborhood from back in the day that you see the kids on the block even if you’ve never been north of the Florida Panhandle. Merry Christmas is anything but. Sadly, it probably depicts more family holidays than society will admit, where “daddy’s drunk, doncha’ know it, Merry Christmas”.
There are no shiny, happy people in the tunes on this record. If you are looking for light-hearted pop music, move along. But if you like songs rich and meaty, with texture and color to all the characters and experiences, Come Hell Or High Water will satisfy that craving.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.