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World Music CD Reviews North American

ROSCOE HOLCOMB

By PAUL-ÉMILE COMEAU
Published June 5, 2006

An Untamed Sense Of Control
Smithsonian Folkways

Roscoe Holcomb is one of those artists—like Dock Boggs, Mississippi John Hurt and others—who brought authenticity to the early ’60s folk revival. Unlike the type of artists skewed in A Mighty Wind, Holcomb was indisputably “the real thing.” The man learned his songs first-hand from others, the only exception on this collection being “I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow” (from a Ralph Stanley 78 rpm record). Holcomb lived through hardship but remained unique, unaffected and intense. His music was the high lonesome sound incarnate, his repertoire including blues and mountain ballads to Old Baptist chants. His archetypal Appalachian music was irregular and erratic, unlike bluegrass, which tends to be hammered down with great precision. Although Holcomb could play slide guitar, harmonica and fiddle, he mostly sang while accompanying himself on banjo or guitar. The title of this album is Bob Dylan’s description of him; Eric Clapton also cited him as his favorite (country) musician. Those endorsements are borne out by this retrospective.