A well-traveled troubadour sings about life’s travails

Asheville Citizen Times

Attempting to describe a Malcolm Holcombe performance is an exercise in futility. The combination of earthiness and mysticism, directness and enigma, sweetness and grit is something that can be fully absorbed only first-hand.

The intensity can be almost harrowing as Holcombe flings body and soul into his self-penned songs. The acclaimed Weaverville native and Swannanoa resident performs at White Horse Black Mountain on Friday, Dec. 16.

There was a time when making advance plans to see a Malcolm Holcombe show might have been a bad bet. While he was hailed as a deeply original songwriting talent in Nashville, the owner of a rasping yet expressive voice, he was notorious for erratic and self-destructive behavior.

After a near-miss with major label success and a brilliant debut album that Geffen Records held back, he moved back to North Carolina to reflect and repair. Now, with his hell-raising days behind him, centered and sober for many years, Holcombe has emerged, brilliance intact, as an artist who’s seen what hides in the dark corners, confronting life’s messiness with passion, a sense of spiritual grounding and the fearlessness of an Old Testament prophet.

Last year year Holcombe released a career retrospective, “The RCA Sessions,” featuring re-recorded versions of songs penned between 1994 and 2014. His newest (and 14th) album “Another Black Hole,” finds the artist lasering in, with razor-sharp insight, on the human condition, especially on the margins of contemporary America.

He’s philosophical about the chances of a new album of songs in the current climate of short attention spans and diminishing revenues. “They’re free to like it or change the CD or completely ignore it,” Holcombe said. “It all depends on how bad their conscience is.”

Clear-eyed visionary

Who: Malcolm Holcombe

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 16

Where: White Horse Black Mountain

Cost: $10 advance, $12 door