Friday, June 2, 2023

Malcolm Holcombe: “Bits & Pieces” (2023) CD Review

Malcolm Holcombe is a singer and songwriter from North Carolina who has put out several albums since the 1990s. Always interesting, always passionate, always true, his music combines elements of folk, blues, country and rock, songs that come from, and reveal, his own singular perspective and personality. His new album, Bits & Pieces, features all original material. Jared Tyler, who has worked with Holcombe on many of his previous albums, including To Drink The Rain, Another Black Hole and Come Hell Or High Water, is the only musician to join him on this release. Tyler plays dobro, lap steel, baritone guitar, electric guitar, bass, mandola, tenor banjo, classical guitar, drums and percussion on these tracks. He also provides backing vocals and co-produced the album with Brian Brinkerhoff.

The album opens with its title track. There is raw urgency to the guitar work at the beginning, which draws us in, the song having a bluesy folk sound that is wonderful. And check out these lyrics: “Don’t ‘member your name/Your face is missin’/Sounds of the shadows/Your next of kin/Bits and pieces/Empty pockets/Travel light in the darkness/Another lifetime forgotten.” He makes good use of the backing vocals on the chorus, giving those lines more energy, more power. Then “Fill Those Shoes” has a sweeter, gentler vibe as it begins, though the lyrics touch upon a harsh reality, and the song will likely strike a chord with anyone who is paying attention. “People get murdered/For no reason/Some give up their lives/So others keep breathin’.” Yet it is a hopeful song, as his voice rises in the chorus, “Now I believe you’re the only one/To fill those worn out shoes.”

“Hard Luck City” has a lighter, more cheerful sound, in part because of the presence of banjo. There seems to be a joy in Malcolm Holcombe’s delivery even as he sings, in the chorus, “I never listened to you/You never listened to me/Ev’rybody got in my way/Thumbin’ down an ol’ highway.” There is an acceptance in his voice, “Good times goodbye/See ya by and by/In hard luck city,” and as we all get older and we look around, there is that sense, that things can be bad, and they certainly are, but here we are, to look around and acknowledge them. And that’s something, isn’t it? That’s followed by “The Wind Doesn’t Know You.” First off, I love that title. This is one of the album’s most interesting songs, the lyrics coming at us, steady and determined: “It’s an ev’ry day battle wakin’ up in the mornin’/With the rattle of the hustles of the cars and the warnin’/Of the pressure, ev’ry measure/Of the clock tickin’ forward.” But those main lines are the ones that really stand out to me: “And the wind doesn’t know who you are/The wind doesn’t know you at all.” And those are the lines he leaves us to ponder as the song concludes.

“Conscience Of Man” is another powerful number, opening with these lines: “Your love for blood and guns and money/Ain’t gonna steal away my country.” There is anger and passion in the delivery. He affirms that he believes “in the conscience of man.” It certainly can be difficult to do so these days, particularly when there seems to be so much evidence to the contrary, but we need to, don’t we? Then “Ev’ry Soul Is There” features some delicious bluesy folk guitar work. This one is delightful, a lighter, brighter number that makes me smile each time I hear it. Check out these lines: “This town’s got a grudge but it makes no matter/As a matter of fact, dead brain cells scatter/Time stretches a hand up over the years/Love comes back around some way or ‘nother.” This is one of my personal favorites. The tone gets a bit darker, a bit more serious then as “Happy Wonderland” starts. But there is humor here, particularly as he describes how a woman has a skillet ready to hit someone in the head, and in the lines “You can play with matches in your pocket/But the downside’s gonna get hot.”

“Another Sweet Deal” has a cheerful vibe about it. “I got a pocket full o’ keys/To fit ev’ry lock/To the doors of your heart/And safe deposit box.” Again, there is a wonderful humor to those lines. Also, I love that guitar line, as well as that lap steel. “I got a friend with a truck/A truck and a trailer/He loads up my junk/And owes me a favor.” Then “Bootstraps” begins with some pretty work on guitar, and has a sweeter, pleasant vibe. Something about this track soothes me, even though certain lines make me sad. This track features one of the album’s best vocal performances. That’s followed by “Eye Of A Needle,” which also contains some passionate vocal work. “The moon slipped on by/Didn’t turn up a dime/Not a drop in the bucket/Turnin’ sixty-five.” And, yes, Malcolm Holcombe turned sixty-five two years ago, when this song was written.

In “Rubbin’ Elbows,” he sings, “Don’t quit your day job/Gone above your raisin’/He was a big shot/Nothing’s worth savin’.” I love that little growl that punctuates the end of lines, not just on this track, but others. Though here, it is particularly effective. And I appreciate the chorus: “Rubbin’ elbows/Kissin’ babies/Snubbin’ poor folks/Lovin’ favors.” This is another of my favorite tracks. It is followed by “I’ve Been There,” which is a fun song, with a playful sense about it in the lyrics and in the music. “You can change my mind when I’m poor and hungry/You can rob me blind with a suit and tie/There’s a special place for a face with a crooked smile/I know I’ve been there all over again.” I love it. The album concludes with “Bring To Fly,” in which he sings, “Still the hope of one will rise/To bind the wounds and hear the cries/Of precious souls he won’t deny/The wings of goodness bring to fly,” a nice thought to leave us with.

CD Track List

  1. Bits And Pieces
  2. Fill Those Shoes
  3. Hard Luck City
  4. The Wind Doesn’t Know You
  5. Conscience Of Man
  6. Ev’ry Soul Is There
  7. Happy Wonderland
  8. Another Sweet Deal
  9. Bootstraps
  10. Eye Of A Needle
  11. Rubbin’ Elbows
  12. I’ve Been There
  13. Bring To Fly

Bits & Pieces is scheduled to be released on June 23, 2023.

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