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Hal Ketchum 9/9/2008

Review

It has been five years since country songwriter Hal Ketchum released a new album in the United States. 2007 saw the issue of the excellent One More Midnight in the United Kingdom; there were plans for release in the U.S. in April of 2007 (three months later than in the United Kingdom) but they were scuttled in favor of Curb's typically erratic marketing strategies -- they shuffled out a makeshift best-of instead. Seek out the import: it's worth it. Ketchum left the American scene in fine form with 2003's The King of Love, and he returns even better here. There are 14 tracks that run the gamut from his trademark soulful and insightful ballads to some scorching acoustic bluesy funk tunes like "Millionaire's Wife," (a rocking murder ballad with killer backing vocals by Angela Primm and Gale Mays that make it reminiscent of Delaney & Bonnie). There's a great cover of Tom Waits' "Jersey Girl" included as well. Ketchum's version of the tune turns it inside out and makes it a country honky tonk ballad with pedal steel whining throughout that lends itself to being played in the local barroom. And Ketchum can sing about New Jersey all he wants -- he's a native New Yorker and his wife Gina is from New Jersey. The tango-tinged "Million Dollar Baby" showcases congas, a Hammond B-3, and a dobro, and Ketchum slides into the deep mambo rhythm like he was made for it. (Ironically, he was thinking of Django Reinhardt when he was writing it, but it's got far more tango than gypsy jazz in it). "Continental Farewell" is an ironic tune that begins as a country waltz all sweet and romantic à la Marty Robbins, but transforms itself into a fingerpopping -- and hilarious -- Western swing number. The bluesy elegy that is "The Day He Called Your Name" walks along the country-gospel track before erupting into an intense memoriam drenched in steel and fiddle with its army of strummed acoustic guitars moving it through its changes. "Down Along the Guadalupe" is a ranchera-flavored number that feels like it comes form Ketchum's past as a folksy singer/songwriter -- and it appears to be true since he began it long ago and finally finished it in time for this set. The title of this album reflects Ketchum's entire life as a songwriter, and all the changes he's been through, good and bad, though the songs are all top-notch. It's a warm, welcoming set that won't reach the top of the charts, and is far from the slick rockist contemporary Nash Vegas country, but so what? This is an adult album of very classy tunes recorded in an organic way; it's polished but it's inviting instead of insistent. These songs get your attention subtly and deliberately; they invite you into Ketchum's world to share in their stories while reflecting on your own. Excellent. ~ Thom Jurek
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  1. # Track Artist Length
  2. 1 Invisible Hal Ketchum 3:50
  3. 2 Yesterday's Gone Hal Ketchum 4:6
  4. 3 Millionaire's Wife Hal Ketchum 4:9
  5. 4 Million Dollar Baby Hal Ketchum 5:2
  6. 5 Ordinary Day Hal Ketchum 3:5
  7. 6 Continental Farewell Hal Ketchum 3:10
  8. 7 Surrounded By Love Hal Ketchum 2:53
  9. 8 The Day He Called Your Name Hal Ketchum 3:51
  10. 9 The Preacher & Me Hal Ketchum 4:41
  11. 10 Let Me Go Hal Ketchum 3:3
  12. 10 If You Don't Love Me, Baby (Just Let Me Go) Hal Ketchum 3:3
  13. 11 Sparrow Hal Ketchum 4:20
  14. 12 Down Along the Guadalupe Hal Ketchum 4:25
  15. 13 Jersey Girl Hal Ketchum 3:42
  16. 14 Strangest Dreams Hal Ketchum 5:1

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