Malcolm Holcombe's MySpace site is studded with fan comments like "your songs feed my soul," odd pronouncements indeed when addressed to a battered-spirit hillbilly poet who once had a reputation as an unpredictable, slightly dangerous performer. Yet after remarrying and shaking the demons of drugs and alcohol, today Holcombe is an enigmatic giant in the Nashville underground, a kindred spirit of other fringe writers like Cadillac Holmes, Tom House and Tony Arata. A nonlinear, highly idiosyncratic lyricist and former dishwasher at Music City songwriter haven Douglas Corner (the anti-Bluebird Café), the 52-year-old North Carolinian counts some of the most respected poets in a town full of 'em as ardent supporters. Holcombe has a natural talent for bending language into pretzels; his brilliant lyrics often hang by a thread between nonsense and enlightenment, but it's lines like "this town knows me lyin' on my face, broken gutters and cryin' in the rain" or "there's belonging in just longing for someone" that make other writers and fans recognize his singular gift. Coupled with a full year of constant touring, his new record Gambling House may be the document that finally lifts Holcombe above the national roots-music radar. And deservedly so.
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