Malcolm Holcombe, a singer-songwriter-artist from North Carolina, takes basic human emotions and weds them with a host of guitar styles to produce a wildly refreshing brand of acoustic music. As much as his mannerisms, finger-picking and appearance bespeak rural simplicity, his lyrics are indicators of an ace storyteller with a clear comprehension of the human condition. Judging from his hourlong perf, the reasons Geffen Records signed him are as obvious as those that caused him to get lost in the Universal Music shakeup a year ago.
“Who Carried You” is one of the most striking tunes from his debut album “A Hundred Lies” on U’s Hip-O, but it was even more powerful in concert, as he added a layer of beaten-down indignance to a tale of helping an ill friend.
Performing solo — L.A. studio ace Greg Leisz colors Holcombe’s tunes on record with dobro and pedal steel — Holcombe’s vocals bore a striking resemblance to John Prine, full of grit and soot that suggest time and place far removed from the turn of the millennium.
If Holcombe was captured just picking and flailing at his guitar, segueing from one tune to another almost recklessly as he did Thursday, listeners could be confused into thinking this is some forgotten Appalachian folkie from the late 1950s that a folklorist dug up.
The textures (old-school country, for lack of a better genre) of his album, once they are brought out on the concert stage, will make for a more arresting live experience. Until then, Holcombe will be a mysterious treasure, obviously Southern and wonderfully out-of-step with the rest of major-label record industry.