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Malcolm Holcombe - To Drink the Rain (Music Road)

Star rating: 

Malcolm Holcombe has one of those well-worn voices that you tend not to question. You instinctively believe that he has lived the life to the full extent and that what he says actually goes, without any doubts. It's Dave Van Ronk meets Guy Clark, with a touch of Townes Van Zandt thrown in. TO DRINK THE RAIN is Holcombe's eighth album in a recording career that started way back in the mid-1980s with the now out of print TRADEMARK LP.

With a well documented and for the most part turbulent career behind him, a career dominated by many years of drinking and depression, together with the usual mixture of disappointment and disillusionment with an inconsistent music business, Holcombe has once again got together with long-time sideman Jared Tyler to record an album instilled with a new focus and creative zest. Recorded over a three-day period in Austin, Texas, with a core band of first rate musicians including the aforementioned Tyler on dobro and acoustic slide, Bobby Kallus on drums, Johnny Cash veteran Dave Roe on upright bass and Luke Bulla on fiddle, together with Shelby Eicher and Andrew Hardin contributing mandolin and acoustic guitar respectively, the songs are pretty much one-take performances, which demonstrates perfectly well their sense of immediacy.

The almost poetic marriage between Holcombe's gruff vocal and Tyler's sweet dobro, makes for good listening, particularly on the full-on bluegrass numbers such as Those Who Wander and Behind the Number One, whilst the opening song One Leg at a Time has the good-time retro feel of a Leon Redbone homage, with a lyric that suggests that through it all, he's still here, alive and kicking.  

Becky's Blessed (Backporch Flowers) provides the album with one of its standout contributions, one of two much older songs, the other one being the album closer One Man Singin', both of which really ought to have been recorded sooner. Whilst Holcombe's low growl on such songs as the jazzy The Mighty City offers a little restraint vocally, nowhere on the album does Holcombe sound more convincing than on the title song, which sees the singer spitting out the lyrics like a chain saw attacking a tree.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky