Hal Ketchum - I’m The Troubadour

Music Road Records MRR CD 022

20 years ago Texas-based singer-songwriter Hal Ketchum was one of the most successful of the literate country singers with top ten singles and gold albums to his credit. Then came ill-health that coincided with a dumbing-down of country radio formats leading to artists like him being sidelined. Hal has been able to expertly navigate a career crossroads by following no other guide than his own muse. Six years after FATHER TIME comes this long-awaited new release, which was recorded in Texas and produced by Jimmy LaFave. Travel, relationship issues and personal revelation mark I’M THE TROUBADOUR. Focusing on rekindling and renewing relationships, the album is a collection of folk, country and Americana-tinged tunes worthy of his repertoire. The singer-songwriter lets his sense of rootlessness feed into his work as an artist to create an opus born from the amalgamation of all his musical influences. Some of the best music is the kind that isn’t necessarily meant to be mass-produced and mass-consumed. Working in music or entertainment should be about more than making a fast buck and a brief period of notoriety. Hal stayed true to that philosophy, as he approached the recording of this album. This (honest) approach is deeply rooted in the moment, a philosophy that says our better days are immediate, tactile and only a silent prayer away.

A truly talented singer and storyteller, he re-imagines a trio of songs from his early days—I Know Where Love Lives, You Loving Me and Drive On—bringing to each a new vitality and depth of meaning that was only hinted at when first recorded all those years ago. The rest of the album is an easy-rolling mix of new Ketchum originals (the vibrant, unsinkable title tune, the knowing Days Like This and the languid, Baby I’m Blue). A true reflection of the artist’s soul, his songs are open-hearted and searching, finding a fresh way to bring blues, folk, rock and country together while presenting frank revelations in the music. A significant and stylish songwriter his fine lyrics are deceptively simple, as in the touching The Saddle; vocally, he’s seldom sounded warmer. The slowed-down I Shall Remain is a nice song, but it is so low-key and Hal’s vocal performance is so laid back that it will probably not bowl listeners over on the first listen. But repeated listens will uncover a pure gem, which offers solitude without loneliness.

Strong performances abound as Hal Ketchum once again clearly articulates his musical vision. There’s a clean, rootsy sound permeating the album provided by the understated playing. Older fans are sure to pick this one up, no questions asked. But the uninitiated should check this out as well.