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Songwriter Holcombe sings the Pitiful Blues

By Jack W. Hill Special to the Democrat-Gazette

This article was published July 31, 2014 at 2:01 a.m.

Malcolm Holcombe

Malcolm Holcombe

Opener: Jared Tyler

9 p.m. today, White Water Tavern, West Seventh and Thayer streets, Little Rock

Admission: $7

(501) 375-8400

whitewatertavern.com

Singer-songwriter Malcolm Holcombe admits to feeling pitiful these days -- in fact, he spells it all out on Pitiful Blues, his new CD, to be released Tuesday.

"My wife picked out the name," Holcombe explains, laughing, from his backyard in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. "The songs mean different things to different people, I guess. If you sling enough bologna at the wall, some of it will stick."

The new album was co-produced by Jared Tyler, a Tulsa musician on tour with Holcombe as the opening act. It's a gig he also had in 2013 when Holcombe last stopped in Little Rock.

"Jared helped me produce an earlier album, To Drink the Rain," Holcombe says. "I'm so fortunate to have him also out on the road with me. He's one of the best guitar and dobro players around. I reckon he's been with me for about 15 years, over the course of seven of my 10 albums.

"On the new batch, we recorded some in my backyard, and some at Jared's place in Tulsa."

Holcombe's backyard is in Swannanoa, N.C., a place he finds hard to leave, but he must take his music to supporters around the country. And word-of-mouth praise from fans and critics has resulted in a growing fan base, although Holcombe is not one to brag. Rather, he is thankful for his blessings.

"It just seems to me that if you hang around the barbershop long enough, you're gonna get a haircut," he says. "I just hung on 'til I did, you might say. These are hard times and I'm just lucky to be of service, to have a purpose. I'm just trying to hone down desperation."

Holcombe recorded his debut album A Hundred Lies for Geffen Records in 1996, but it ended up on a shelf for three years. Along the way, Holcombe has opened for Merle Haggard, Wilco, Shelby Lynne, John Hammond, Leon Russell and Richard Thompson, and a host of other musicians he admires and respects. Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle have contributed to Holcombe's recordings.

As for the unusual stick figure artwork of Pitiful Blues and To Drink the Rain (which might remind some of the folk art of Howard Finster, whose works were chosen for album covers by R.E.M., Pierce Pettis and The Talking Heads), Holcombe says he came up with the drawings.

"I'm cheap," he says. "I think it probably is the result of my ancestors who lived in a cave in Utah -- or Arkansas!"

Holcombe's new album showcases 10 of his latest songs, including "Another Despair," "Words Not Spoken" and "For the Love of a Child." His voice, not a smooth one, sounds lived-in, to put it mildly, and comparisons with Tom Waits, Guy Clark and Bob Dylan are inevitable. Lyrics sometimes are as enigmatic as Dylan's, also.

Years of rolling down the highway have given inspiration to Holcombe, who distills the wisdom of the road into a couple of simple suggestions: "Use your turn signals and keep it under 100."

Weekend on 07/31/2014

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