Steve Earle has called singer-guitarist Malcolm Holcombe the “best songwriter I ever threw out of my recording studio.”

That says a lot. First, Earle is one of the most critically acclaimed songwriters of his era, so he knows musical talent when he sees it.

He’s also famous for battling addiction and being hard to work with. So if he had to throw Holcombe out of his studio, you know Holcombe was not exactly a saint.

Holcombe, 56, says his days of drinking and explosive behavior are behind him now. Hes says he’s been sober for years, and that his goal is to play music as long as he can and hope it helps him, and others, along the way.

But even when he’s being humble about his success as a musician, his thoughts seem to ramble in ways that are not easy for everyone to follow.

The same can be said for many of his songs.

“I count my blessings that a lot of folks have been really kind to me – whether they’re doing their job, or exploiting me, or smiling or laughing – people come to my shows,” said Holcombe. “From my perspective, I’m just trying to be of service and keep body and soul together,  like most people.

“A lot of people wear a black hat on the inside; I like to think mine is just dingy white. At the end of the day, everyone wants to work for a healthier path for all concerned, though it may not always seem that way.”

Holcombe will perform a show at One Longfellow Square in Portland tonight.  It’s a suitably intimate venue for a performer whose music is intensely personal.

Holcombe has gained critical raves during his more than 30 years in music, especially for his thoughtful songwriting and soulful Appalachian-based folk sound. He grew up in small town outside of Asheville, N.C. He remembers being influenced by seeing the bluegrass duo of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs on TV in the early 1960s during the national folk revival. But he was also a fan of 1960s pop radio.

He eventually wound up in Nashville, working as a dishwasher and performing when he could. He wowed enough people to get a deal with Geffen Records and make an album, but it was shelved.
Beginning in the 1990s, Holcombe moved back to North Carolina and made a string of albums that gained him a following here and in Europe, especially in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Today, he still lives near Asheville and travels the world performing his songs. Although his music has been categorized by critics  as “country blues” or Americana, Holcombe wants to call it just folk. For a very specific reason.

“It’s got fewer syllables, and that’s what we all are – just folk,” he said.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be
contacted at 791-6454 or at:
[email protected]