It is obvious he’s paid his dues as a musician and a songwriter. He wears that payment on his furrowed face and tangled up in his long thinning hair that occasionally falls into his intense eyes as he plays, twists and rocks in his chair.
I first saw him play at a small pub in Black Mountain, NC, and was awed by his intensity. He growled out his dark lyrics while duck walking off his seat. It was as if neither the furniture nor his body could contain his talent.
At a recent house concert in Hickory that intensity was still evident, although he rocked back and forth rather than leaving the chair. His fingers still tortured the guitar strings and that voice continues to sound as though it comes from the bottom of a rotgut whiskey bottle.
Despite the acclaim he has received from such stars as Lucinda Williams and Garth Brooks, humility remains his calling card. During a break between sets, he responded to a fan who said she had been following his career for years with this self-deprecating rhetorical question: “It don’t get any better does it?”
Between songs he reminisced about the old days, frying frozen blocks of reconstituted white fish at a Captain D’s fast-food restaurant. In fact his early jobs in Nashville consisted of working the grill more than performing on stage.
According to an article in “No Depression,” Malcolm spent some of that time flipping burgers at Douglas Corner, a small club that hosts performances by songwriters. I’m familiar with the place because I played an open mic there several years ago.
I can very well imagine Malcolm coming out of the kitchen, removing his apron and then taking the stage to play a few songs.
His work has been called raw and authentic and much of what he writes and performs no doubt reflects his life. The disappointment of a cancelled record deal, tragedy of the death of a child and decent into the depths of substance abuse fuel the pain evident in his music.
Malcolm Holcombe may never attain the fame and fortune of the stars who record his stuff, but he has earned their respect and admiration. He’s as real as it gets and you can plainly see and hear that he’s paid dearly for every bit of that authenticity.