Although it's been roughly four years since Malcolm Holcombe has been through Tulsa, the time doesn't take away from the lasting impressions he made with that visit or the CD he had just delivered at the time. Vivid lyrics, rustic arrangements and an honest, forthright delivery all make a strong impression, especially when delivered with a personality as colorful as Holcombe's.
Nevertheless, too much time has passed since Holcombe's last visit to Tulsa -- something that is being remedied by his stop at The Church Studios for a special show with longtime friend and sideman Jared Tyler this Thursday evening, Sept. 8.
During the time in between visits, Holcombe has released four more CDs and toured extensively, yet his voice and songwriting have only become more gritty and down to earth with each release. When asked if moving back to his home state of North Carolina has colored his writing, he answered in a typically humorous, yet reflective tone: "Sure it has. It's like if you're in an elevator -- you deal with what's in front of you, whether it's the first floor or the tenth floor... or claustrophobia. Your surroundings, it all affects you; whether you're in a whorehouse, a crack house or the White House."
More than anything, Holcombe shared that he just tries to be honest with his music, something that rings true with each song. "I write a lot of songs," he shared. "Some of them are good, some of them are crap. I just kind of sling it all up against the wall and see what sticks. There are no tricks to it. I'm just trying to be honest. It's all a process."
When asked what his measuring stick is to differentiate the good from the bad, he initially laughed "When people start leaving the bar, that's a good sign," but countered seriously with "If it's worth remembering, that's a sign that you're doing something right. Tony Arrata said it best, so I'll quote him. He said 'Do something worth remembering' and that's what I try to do."
Holcombe's are just that -- small vignettes that stick in our head, painting vivid pictures. On one hand, it might be the haunting blues of the title, where Holcombe works to get "free from worry, free from pain" yet looks forward to enjoying the little things, promising "stick with me and I'll show ya how to drink the rain."
On another hand, he waxes poetic about a girl who affects everyone she comes in contact with on one of his most touching songs, "Becky's Blessed." In it, he sings "Becky's blessed with a special heart, a whisper listenin' through the walls, a gentle word in a room where you are keeps my back porch flowers growin'..." Open to translation, he still paints a vivid picture of the young lady and how she touches and inspires those around her.
The songs all come together with beautiful, yet rustic arrangements that could only be described as modern folk and bluegrass. An all-star cast of musicians joined Holcombe for this disc, including Johnny Cash's bassist David Roe, renowned fiddle player Luke Bulla and even guest appearances by Jimmy LaFave and Tulsa's own Shelby Eicher. Produced by Jared Tyler and recorded at Cedar Creek Studios in Tulsa, the new disc marks a move for Holcombe to Jimmy LaFave's label, Music Row Records.
"Getting any deal is a miracle these days," Holcombe shared about the change. "It's like getting a job. You're lucky to even be flipping burgers. I was getting disgusted by not being in a position to release this of our own resources and started to ask around. I spoke with Lynn Lancaster who mentioned Jimmy LaFave and his label."
"Finally, I made no bones about it and called Jared (Tyler) because I knew he knew some people down there and told him to make some calls. He did and it all came together. After that, I thought he deserved to produce and he was happy to do it."
"It's really been a miracle and a blessing," Holcombe continued. "It's been a godsend that people have been willing to take on this old hippie. We were even able to use David Roe on Double bass. That was really something special."
Of the alignment with Music Row Records, Holcombe reflected that "Jimmy and I are kind of kindred spirits down in Austin, so I think it has worked out really well. We got to do some pickin' and layed it down pretty quick."
Now that the record is out, Holcombe is back on the road and doing what he does best -- presenting the songs in a live setting. A special show at The Church this Thursday evening just may be one of the most appropriate places to experience the songwriter as it fits his honest and classic voice and delivery on songs that are almost pastoral in their vivid depictions of life and the characters within the songwriter's stories.
Of course, Jared Tyler will be at hand, not only accompanying Holcombe on dobro, but also opening the show with a set of his own songs. Tyler doesn't play in town nearly often enough himself, so this almost qualifies as a co-headlining show, although Tyler will automatically default to Holcombe as a friend and mentor of sorts.
As always, this will be a special night at The Church and seating is limited. As of press time, seats were still available, however, so don't miss this show. Held as part of the House Concerts unlimited series, the suggested donation at the door is $20 per person for what will undoubtedly be an unforgettable night with one of modern folk music's most vivid and colorful songwriters.
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