Malcolm Holcombe has been recording for more than two decades now, and it sounds like he's been chain-smoking throughout, his voice on Gamblin' House boasting the gruff geniality of Tom Waits with a bad sore throat.
Holcombe is one of the authentic folk-blues spirits the American South keeps throwing up – in his case, the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The bluesy dobro and banjo stylings of Ed Snodderly recall Kelly Joe Phelps, particularly on the opener "My Ol' Radio", which lauds the radio as an expression of one's personality – if you can find the right station. The ebullient "Goodtimes" finds Holcombe rattling off a series of observations and images, several doubtless glimpsed through the bottom of a glass. But there's a warm heart beating beneath that crusty bark, surfacing most strongly in the tributes to his wife, "Cynthia Margaret" and "Baby Likes a Love Song", and the poignant "Blue Flame", where mournful fiddle and the funereal burr of bowed bass underscore his conviction that "no words can hold me close enough to you". Most moving of all, though, is his portrait of an infirm, abandoned man in "You Don't Come See Me Anymore", keenly aware of how "my catchin' up is runnin' outta time".
Pick of the album:'You Don't Come See Me Anymore', 'My Ol' Radio', 'Goodtimes', 'Blue Flame'