‘Bits & Pieces’ – Malcolm Holcombe

4 stars (out of 5)


It’s easy to see why Malcolm Holcombe is admired by so many songwriters. His lyrics are economical, perhaps even terse at times, conveying ideas and stories by hints and allusions rather than as a simple narrative and creating rhythmic textures with his finger-picking style. The album’s a two-hander with Jared Tyler supplying tonal colours to Malcolm’s songs (as he has for nearly twenty-five years) with a wide variety of instruments including dobro, lap steel, baritone guitar, tenor banjo, mandola and percussion. Malcolm’s finger-picking and Jared’s backing and fills give the songs a rhythmic complexity that emphasises the starkness of the lyrics.

‘Bits & Pieces’ is an album where Malcolm takes a long look in the rear-view mirror at the times he’s enjoyed and the times he’s survived; there’s a reason for this. Malcolm was diagnosed with cancer in 2022 and decided to record these songs straight away because of the uncertain future. He’s now a cancer survivor as well and this is referenced in ‘Bootstraps’ with the lines “blood bleedin’ in your stomach, saline flowin’ your veins”. Malcolm’s lyrics can be oblique, leaving you wondering whether you’re chasing the right reference, although it’s clear that ‘Eye of the Needle’, ‘Rubbin’ Elbows’ (with the COVID reference) and ‘Another Sweet Deal’ are talking about hucksters and grifters and possibly even the Trump family. You can find a few religious references in there as well, in ‘Eye of the Needle’ mentioned above, ‘Bring to Fly’ and ‘Conscience of Man’. Sometimes you need to delve a little to unpick the references, but it’s always worth the effort.

There are a couple of standouts for me and they’re side by side on the album. ‘The Wind Doesn’t Know You’ takes a whistle-stop tour through Malcolm’s past (‘lock the doors and windows turn the music up louder, from the eighties to the nineties from the pills to the powder’) before acknowledging that in the grand scheme of things, we play a very small part. ‘Conscience of Man’ hints at the early Eagles albums in its arrangements and harmonies as it rails at the American right wing before admitting that redemption might just be possible. And the theme of redemption suffuses the album’s closer ‘Bring to Fly’ to end the album on a positive note.

If you already know Malcolm Holcombe’s work, you’ll find this a very satisfying album. If you don’t know his work, then this is a pretty good place to start.

‘Bits & Pieces’ is out now on Proper Music/Need To Know.

Here’s the lyric video for the album’s title song:

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!