There are a total of six years between Robin Holcomb's mostly instrumental Little Three and 2002's The Big Time. But one has to reach back even further for her last batch of original songs, Rockabye in 1992. While such large gaps seem like a lifetime in an artist's career, Holcomb just picks up where she left off. Her two renditions of traditional material from the Anthology of American Folk Music are noteworthy if for no other reason than how little they have to do with the originals. "A Lazy Farmer Boy" might be described as avant-garde folk, and one has to wonder if the presence of Danny Barnes from the Bad Livers has perversely affected this rendition. Another interesting connection is the presence of guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Keith Lowe, both also on the Nonesuch roster. These musicians build a layered soundscape on pieces like "Engine 143," providing lots of space for Holcomb's evocative voice to float in. These arresting arrangements also work well on her self-penned material, as with the soulful "I Tried to Believe" and the slow-rocking opener, "Pretend." Unlike a number of singer/songwriters, Holcomb's more experimental approach to vocals and accompaniment gives her an edge and broadens her appeal. Fans of contemporary folk will like the lyrical content of The Big Time, but non-folk fans will be drawn to the lovely sound and careful layering of Holcomb's music.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.