Update: Malcolm Holcombe's show has been canceled. According to Tybee Post Theater: "Malcolm is snowed in up in the mountains! We will reschedule for the spring thaw!"
Behind poignant lyrics, exceptional guitar picking and a raspy but soothing voice, Malcolm Holcombe has solidified himself in the Americana canon after two decades of songwriting and performing.
The Asheville, N.C.-based singer/songwriter draws inspiration from the deep well of his native Appalachia, where Scots-Irish immigrants began America's first and longest tenured musical styles in the tradition of the old Celtic world.
On full display in his latest album, "Pretty Little Troubles," Holcombe explores rich storytelling through the lens of a seasoned songwriter. Throughout his career, Holcombe has flirted with the mainstream, but exists more as an underground legend of folk artists. He has been recognized by contemporaries like Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle.
His 13-album discography has seen releases on major label imprints, self-releases and appearances with staples of the folk industry. He's shared the stage with Merle Haggard, Richard Thompson, John Hammond, Leon Russell, Wilco and Shelby Lynne.
Music and songwriting began rather simply for Holcombe, whose twangy, Appalachia-soaked accent delivers poetic anecdotes of his past, even in the ease of a simple conversation.
"I was just watching TV and my cousin gave me a guitar with strings about as high as a hangman," Holcombe said. "He's from Johnson City (Tenn.). He gave me an old cheap guitar, painted green. I don't know if it worked or not.
"My uncle was a fire-and-brimstone preacher in Maryville, Tenn. He had an old D41 or 45, rest his soul, and I liked the way that guitar sounded. I listened to an old transistor radio, like everyone else in the early/mid-'60s, and you hear all that good rock 'n' roll at a low volume. I was really digging it. At night you could pick up all those stations out of Chicago and Fort Wayne, Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol."
Without any pretention, he weaves stories of his own life and struggles into powerful songs. On the title track from "Pretty Little Troubles," he sings, "I keep a grin in my pocket/To spin the hard times/We been goin' through/I believe if you struggle missin' good ol' days/You ain't done much o' livin' the blues."
"I hadn't learned to levitate the pencil to my fingers, so I have to grab it and find a box top or a piece of paper," Holcombe said. "I am not gifted enough to get struck by lightning. I have to have a cup of coffee and a cigarette and grab a pencil. If you want to eat corn, you have to get out the hoe."
Anyone can write song lyrics if they've lived a little, he said.
"People get stirred," Holcombe continued. "Some people are apathetic. I've had times of that. I don't drink anymore. But it's easier to read what you write when you're not drunk. It's more legible. You have to make an effort. We're all songwriters. Everyone has stories. Caveman drawings, even. They clubbed each other, then drew pictures about it. Everyone is a storyteller."
For "Pretty Little Troubles," Holcombe teamed up with one of his longtime friends, Darrell Scott. Scott's resume includes work with Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark and Robert Plant's Band of Joy. After a two-decade friendship, it was the first time the two worked on an album together.
Holcombe tapped a friend in Crawford, Tenn., who has a sanctuary out in the country he built for shows, which provided the perfect atmosphere for recording. Scott brought in veteran musicians Jared Tyler, Dennis Crouch, Verlon Thompson and Marco Giovino to back Holcombe.
"You hang out in a barbershop long enough, you'll get a pair of scissors in your back," Holcombe said of the album. "Trying not to be so negative, but there's more to life than a mansion on a hill. This new administration stirs me. Flips my pissed-off switch. These are days of reckoning. It's pretty devastating from my point of view. Maybe some people can sink their teeth into it or scratch their head."
Holcombe is no stranger to Savannah. He's been playing the city for years and even wrote a song about it, "Savannah Blues." He will play a solo show at Tybee Post Theater on Dec. 9 with The Train Wrecks' frontman Jason Bible opening the bill.
As far as the setlist goes: "I just scratch my head, have a cup of coffee and a cigarette and see what the dog has in his mouth," Holcombe concluded.
IF YOU GO
What: Malcolm Holcombe with Jason Bible
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 9
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave.