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Roscoe Holcomb’s music is kind of like gnosis. For as much as he’s revered—the title of his latest disc, An Untamed Sense of Control, is an excerpt from a Bob Dylan rave—Holcomb is a code that just hasn’t been cracked. All these years later and still no one sounds anything like him. Born in 1911, the Eastern Kentucky old-time player wasn’t all redneck flash like bluegrass icons Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe: Holcomb was a “home musician,” according to John Cohen, who made the first-ever recordings of the singer and multi-instrumentalist on a 1959 trip to Perry County. Holcomb’s 1973 Cambridge, Mass., performance of “Black Eyed Susie,” which arrives smack in the middle of this compilation of odds ‘n’ sods, is definitely a feral display of banjo-playin’. But the 1972 front-porch version of “Milk Cow Blues” that immediately precedes it shows a much truer Holcomb: The unhurried banjo instrumental slides out of tune even as the ex-moonshiner picks it, betraying a looseness that’s full of charm but nowhere near pro. Though Holcomb aspired to Dock Boggs’ skillful playing and expressed an admiration for Dolly Parton’s singing, he largely shunned influence, seeking instead to make each song his own. Even his take on “Single Girl” sounds nothing like the famous Carter Family version, which just happens to be the arrangement he thought he was playing. Lyric disparities aside, Sara Carter’s classic rendering sounds stiff and formal next to Holcomb’s intrepid hillbilly portamento. And that’s what makes him so special: As a singer, Holcomb was fearless, steering melodies as wildly as a drunk driver on a rain-slicked mountainside. He seizes upon a word and wrestles with it longer than he ought, slowly stretching notes upward and then dropping them just in time to grab the next lyric. If his pitch is less than perfect and his accent thicker than Hazard mud, well, those issues are really beside the point. That’s because, ultimately, Holcomb played for an audience of one: According to Cohen, when approached by an aggressive New York concertgoer about a song, Holcomb responded, “Buddy, I was singing that for me, not for you.” —Brent Burton