Malcolm Holcombe’s late-’90s release A Hundred Lies struck with the force of a revelation. Holcombe’s loose-knit narratives, delivered in his grainy, gritty voice, hearkened back to such singer-songwriter landmarks as Guy Clark’s Old No. 1 and Townes Van Zandt’s Live At The Old Quarter. Those who heard it knew we had gotten in early on something special.
On Another Wisdom, Holcombe is backed by a crack crew of Nashville players, including Stuart Duncan, Kenny Malone and Darrell Scott. Where the musical backing on A Hundred Lies was mostly unobtrusive, leaving plenty of room for Holcombe’s vocals, here the instrumentation competes with Holcombe’s voice for attention. This is not a bad thing; Holcombe’s voice is powerful enough to meet the challenge of added production, and Don Tolles is wise enough to lay back on such tunes as “Bring The Water On Down” and “Love Abides”, when a light touch is needed. And on “Woman Missin’” and the album-opening “The Station”, the extra musical punch sparks the songs with conviction.
The songs and Holcombe’s impassioned delivery of them are the focus here. Holcombe can observe “nineball hustlers/ Poolhalls in their eyeballs” in “The Station”, then turn around and sing “Sleepy town is just a dream away” to a restless child and be convincing in both cases. And like the best writers, Holcombe has mastered his craft so well that he is able to tap almost unconsciously into the nameless emotions that inform the best songs.