Robin Holcomb, the Seattle-based singer/songwriter whose music has been described by the Washington Post as “sensitive, descriptive, adventuresome and full of soul,” released Little Three in March 1996. The album—primarily instrumental and, unlike her two previous efforts with a full band—features Holcomb’s solo piano work, with her delicate vocals on two songs.
Emphasizing Holcomb’s ability to blend musical genres, Little Three fluidly incorporates both classical and jazz styles, as well as touches of folk. The changing rhythms and evocative melodies that permeate the entire body of work give it an ethereal quality that one critic called “as haunting as a nighttime drive in the country.” This tranquil theme is perhaps most powerful on the vocal selection “The Graveyard Song.”
Accurately describing Holcomb’s work is always a difficult task due to its multiple influences. The New York Times has said that Holcomb "has created a new American regionalism, spun from many threads—country, rock, minimalism, Civil War songs, Baptist hymns, Appalachian folk tunes, even the polytonal music of Charles Ives. The music that results is as elegantly simple as a Shaker quilt, and no less beautiful.” The Oakland Tribune says her music “recalls at times early Kate Bush, Patti Smith, and what painter Georgia O’Keefe might have sounded like if she were a singer.”
Holcomb has collaborated on previous albums with a variety of musicians, from guitarists Peter Holsapple (dBs, REM) and Bill Frisell to Gospel vocalist Jevetta Steele and saxman Doug Wieselman. Her perspective on her art has been forged by rich and varied musical experiences, from her development of an individual solo piano style to her work with chamber ensembles, Indonesian gamelans, improvising orchestras and musical theater. Having lived in the deep South, on the West Coast, and in New York City—three very distinct regions of the country—her surroundings have also played a key role in her musical development. While her influences range from Randy Newman to The Band to Cecil Taylor to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Appalachian flavor of some of her work no doubt comes from her stint as a sharecropper in rural North Carolina.
With interests in folk music that emerged during her childhood in Georgia and the mountains of California, she expanded her musical vocabulary studying ethnomusicology and composition at UC Santa Cruz. In the 1980s, Holcomb was deeply involved as a writer and pianist in New York City’s experimental music scene. During that period she co-founded Studio Henry—a performance outlet where she gave poetry readings and concerts—and the New York Composers Orchestra.
Little Three offers yet another generous collection of songs from an artist the Philadelphia Inquirer dubbed “an essential respite from the raft of female singers currently clogging record stores.”
Produced by Judith Sherman
Recorded April 7-9, 1995, at the Recital Hall, Music Division, SUNY, Purchase, New York
Engineered by Paul Zinman, SoundByte Productions, Inc., New York, New York
Assistant Editor: Jeanne Velonis
Mastered by Robert and Brian Lee at Gateway Mastering Studios, Inc., Portland, Maine
All songs by Robin Holcomb
Art direction and design by John William Costa
Cover photograph by William Clift
Robin Holcomb, vocals (3, 7), piano