(Mark W. Winchester has replaced Tony Arata in the lineup of this show)
Marshall Chapman is an American singer-songwriter-author who was born and raised in Spartanburg, South Carolina. To date she has released thirteen critically acclaimed albums. Her latest, Blaze of Glory, was hailed a masterpiece.
Chapman’s songs have been recorded by everyone from Emmylou Harris and Joe Cocker to Irma Thomas and Jimmy Buffett.
In 2010, Chapman landed her first movie role, playing Gwyneth Paltrow’s road manager in Country Strong. During filming, her musical Good Ol’ Girls (adapted from the fiction of Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle, featuring songs by Matraca Berg and Marshall) opened off-Broadway. That fall, Chapman simultaneously released a book (They Came to Nashville) and CD (Big Lonesome). They Came to Nashville was nominated for the 2011 SIBA Book Award for nonfiction, and the Philadelphia Inquirer named Big Lonesome “Best Country/Roots Album of 2010.”
Of her three rockin’ albums for Epic, the Al Kooper-produced Jaded Virgin was voted Record of the Year (1978) by Stereo Review. Her album, It’s About Time… (Island, 1995), recorded live at the Tennessee State Prison for Women, drew rave reviews from Time, USA Today and the Village Voice.
Chapman’s first book, Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller (St. Martin’s Press) was a SIBA bestseller, 2004 SIBA Book Award finalist, and one of three finalists for the Southern Book Critics Circle Award. The book is now in its third printing.
Since Country Strong, Chapman continues to land film roles. In Mississippi Grind (2015) she plays the blues-singing mother of a drifter-gambler played by Ryan Reynolds. In Lovesong, which opened to rave reviews at this year’s Sundance festival, she plays the mother of the groom (Ryan Eggold) opposite Rosanna Arquette’s mother of the bride. In Where the Fast Lane Ends, she plays Aunt Kate, the pain-in-the-ass sister of Big Jack (played by Mac Davis). Most recently, in Novitiate, she plays a nun who loses her mind
Marshall is a contributing editor to Garden & Gun and Nashville Arts Magazine. She’s also written for The Oxford American, Southern Living, W, Performing Songwriter, and The Bob Edwards Show (Sirius/XM). “But music,” she says, “is my first and last love.”
Malcolm Holcombe is possessed by a singular sort of solitary genius that, like the novelist William Faulkner, is yet the voice of an entire region – the South–and even of a generation, though somehow transcendent of it, timeless. If true greatness moves from the particular to the universal, his music speaks for all of humanity while remaining entirely his own.
A North Carolina son of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Holcombe belongs to a tradition of bardic singer-songwriters that includes such legends as Townes Van Zandt, Blaze Foley, Gurf Morlix and David Olney. He is an acclaimed contemporary of Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle and has shared the stage with Merle Haggard, Richard Thompson, John Hammond, and Leon Russell. Yet Holcombe stands apart, his soul-stirring lyrics are hill country high poetry, the music pure back roads. His musicianship is uncanny, like no other, as though he had invented the guitar.
In a very real sense he is a latter day Elizabethan poet troubadour of barrooms, ragged towns and coal miner shacks. His intimate, poignantly etched lyrics invite you in, sit you down, speak directly to you. Listening to them, you are befriended.
“joseph marta seven kids/i know them names by heart/ your mother’s father worked the mines/ petersburg to charleston/ st petersburg to charleston”
“ol wringer washer’s on the porch/ thieves done stole him blind/ one empty bottle rot gut wine/ cotton worked the mines/ ol cotton worked the mines”
Holcombe not only knows these people intimately, but offers you direct witness to their tragedy:
“fifty cents a bloody day/ no child labor laws/ most them lil’ babies died/ disease and alcohol/disease and alcohol”
From Good Ol’ Days:
Holcombe’s guitarwork is always masterfully spontaneous. On stage, edgily rocking his chair, his finger-flying fretwork and strum spin the theater like a roulette wheel, while his granular voice takes us aboard an Americana folk bus that is a ravaged speeding palace of bad luck and hurtles us down the blacktop road of no return where chain gang blues mingle with Celtic madrigals resonant with hardbitten lives.
But also there are is the gentle echoing of the early Irish ballads of yore and you know that what you’re hearing is like nothing that you’ve ever heard:
“a pint er two in belfast/ burns the eyes o’ josephine/ an irish girl forever curls/ around your heart o’ glass
shattered blowin’ into town/ shattered goin’ back/the nightshift calls your council/ pittance in your pockets”
“the wretched poor o’ poison blood/the government the hospital/ they snitch and laugh and never smile/straight jackets for the crooked mile”
From Eyes of Josephine
It’s all his own authentic poetry and in a metaphor like “Phenobarbital of night” shimmers the epiphany of a coal country visionary, a lyric phrasing that brings to mind Allen Ginsberg whom I both knew and performed with.
“I walk and stagger to your eyes/ the phenobarbital at night/ we locked you up and shut the door/ your brain is scattered on the floor”
Holcombe’s songs contain not only love but fury, careen dangerously to the edge as they portray the hopelessness of the destitute, the broken wards of shattered lives whose desperate gambles turn up craps. Holcombe sings from gut-shot experience. And here, I’ll summon one more legendary man of letters that Holcombe brings to mind, a very great one, for I believe that Malcolm Holcombe is as great a songwriting poet as any this country has produced: James Agee of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
Like Agee, Holcombe protests against the unheeded suffering of his kin, giving voice to their voicelessness, daring us to feel what is happening to the vulnerable in our midst. He asks you: ‘How can this be?’ But also, there is in him a tender spiritual resignation to the foibles of human kind, a forgiving grasp of consequence and a driving hope that moves brightly to the core of our being:
“Much has been given, much is required, in the fire of the sun low in the night all my friends are sick/ dyin’ and dead/ my family is another baby born”
Another baby born. The ceaseless cycle of death and birth is his family. He has no time for remorse or nostalgia. Trouble is only trouble but it is Life that leads him. As he sings in Pretty Little Troubles, the title song: “I keep a grin in my pocket/to spin the hard times/we been goin’ thru
i believe if you struggle missin’ good ol days/ you ain’t done much o’ livin’ the blues”
And what we come away with is the love and beauty of these masterpieces, an authentic slice of America from a brilliantly original native-born bard of broken hearts and dreams.
Mark W. Winchester
Award-winning upright “slap” bass player (Emmylou Harris’ Nash Ramblers, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Planet Rockers) Mark W. Winchester is also an accomplished singer/songwriter. His songs have been covered by many artists including Randy Travis, Balsam Range, Brian Setzer, and Carlene Carter. Born in the Piedmont of North Carolina, now a member of the Nashville Tennessee music community since 1987, Mark W. continues to slap the bass, write songs, and release his own recording projects.