For the Mission Baby

Price: $9.99

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Over the years, Malcolm Holcombe has forged his own rugged path as a folk-based singer/songwriter, releasing albums that oscillate between the baffling and the mesmerizing. For the Mission Baby inches still deeper into the dense thickets of his oddly compelling imagination. Holcombe’s sometimes impenetrable vocal gargle is complimented by his spiky acoustic guitar style and a penchant for fragmented yet lucid imagery. Producer Ray Kennedy is wise enough not to smooth out all of his quirks, though Tim O’Brien’s fiddle and David Roe’s upright bass help anchor the tracks in country traditions. As ever, Holcombe is a story-teller at heart — this time, he offers tales of lonesome mining camps (“Hannah’s Tradin’ Post”), scruffy neighborhoods (“Short Street Blues”) and disrupted families (the title tune). His gospel leanings show through in “Whenever I Pray” and “Doncha Miss That Water.” “Bigtime Blues” and “Leonard’s Pigpen” twang and stomp hellaciously, while “Straight and Tall” has an unexpectedly mellow jazz feel. A bracing slice of rootsy surrealism by a genuine American original.