Up from one very hard life, Malcolm Holcombe riding high

Michael Flynn
Special to The Black Mountain News

In a region filled with musical talent, no one sounds quite like homegrown acoustic troubadour Malcolm Holcombe. The Weaverville native has recently returned to his current home in the Swannanoa Valley from a string of shows in California for a gig at White Horse Black Mountain.

This past spring, in order to mark a two-decade career milestone, Holcombe released “The RCA Sessions,” composed of 16 cuts from each of his prior 10 full-length releases, plus one EP. Unlike a customary package of previously released tunes, Holcombe re-recorded the songs with ace collaborators past and present at the historic RCA Studios in Nashville, Tenn.

Issued as a double disc, the second contains Holcombe's first DVD release, which features video of the studio sessions plus interviews with participating musicians.

“It’s a compilation of songs from the last 20 years,” Holcombe said during a recent phone interview. “A nice man in San Diego (Brian Brinkerhoff, executive producer) pulled a rabbit out of his hat,” he noted with typical elliptical insight. Regarding the DVD, “we made a Kodak moment,” he said.

Described on his website as an “underground folk legend,” Holcombe has been hailed by publications from Rolling Stone magazine to The Wall Street Journal. Combining country, folk and blues elements, his unvarnished vocals are rustic, penetrating and soulful.

“From the first note I was drawn in,” award-winning Americana musician Lucinda Williams has said about Holcombe. “[He] is an old soul and a modern-day blues poet.” Describing his own formative years in Asheville, local guitar great Warren Haynes reflected in Rolling Stone this month about driving around town as a young teen in Holcombe’s van listening to notable singer-songwriters. It’s a time Holcombe remembers too.

“We used to ride around Merrimon Avenue listening to the Allman Brothers, Dylan, John Prine, Townes Van Zandt and more,” Holcombe said. “Warren told me how to bend a string on a guitar. He’s a wonderful person and plays guitar like a scalded dog. He taught me how to make a string sing,” Holcombe said, mentioning time playing at the old Caesar’s Parlor on Merrimon.

Initially emerging in Nashville while working as a dishwasher and playing open mics, Holcombe signed with a major label. But ensuing disputes followed by bouts of drinking and depression, as well as other issues, threatened to derail his promising launch.

Powered by grit and determination to pursue his dreams, Holcombe rebounded back home, where his musical career continues to move forward with new releases and a wide-ranging tour schedule, including gigs in Europe.

“Prayers from my family and friends and the grace of God,” are what he said brought him back from the edge.

The solo show at White Horse will include tunes from “The RCA Sessions” as well as other songs from his 20-year catalog. The opener will be fellow Appalachian folk musician and former Johnny Paycheck sideman Bill Phillips, who will also play solo.

Despite being 60, Holcombe isn’t retiring anytime soon. He has plans for another release this February, “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise,” he added.

After a few shows around the Southeast, Holcombe returns to the region in February 2016, with a show scheduled at The Grey Eagle in Asheville. WNC performances remain special, he concluded.

“I get to sleep in my own bed at night with my wife and see family and friends who’ve been wonderful for 60 years,” he said.

Rare second chance

Who: Malcolm Holcombe

When: 8 p.m. Nov. 21

Where: White Horse Black Mountain

Cost: $15