Friday, February 02, 2018

Roscoe Holcomb - The High Lonesome Sound

As I said in my review of Roscoe's An Untamed Sense of Control CD, I learned about the man via a documentary on Appalachian music and was immediately struck by his sound. A mix of traditional Appalachian melodies, bluegrass, gospel, country and more, his performances, while drawing from sounds heard in his Kentucky homeland, were both familiar and unique.

While I don't know if anyone would currently call his nasally voice "good" (although he was known to say that he had a "fine voice"), it is extremely powerful and emotional, with strident, drawn-out syllables that will touch you even if you don't find it necessarily traditionally pleasing. His guitar and banjo playing is certainly rooted in the bluegrass style, with an emphasis on swift finger-pickin', although it does take second place to his vocals. This CD, as with Untamed..., consists mostly of Holcomb on his own, whether it is singing a gospel song or a tale of moonshinin' acapella or doing guitar or banjo interpretations of traditional numbers like "Little Birdie", "In the Pines", "Trouble in Mind", "Motherless Children", "House in New Orleans" (aka "House of the Rising Sun") or an unrecognizable (to modern ears) "Old Smokey". Close your eyes and you can easily see him in the Kentucky mountain woods when he sings - he is the sound of that area.

The accompanying booklet gives a biography of the man by John Cohen, who helped to introduce him to the modern folk scene of the 50's and 60's. The section about the individual songs includes the unusual tunings that Holcomb used, which is particularly fascinating for this musician, as he used highly odd combinations.

Personally, I love this stuff and Holcomb is one of my favorite recent discoveries. Although acoustic, the feelings are raw'n'electric. Highly recommended!