Hal Ketchum was born in upstate New York and played drums in cover bands growing up. After a move to New Braunfels, TX – a town halfway between San Antonia and Austin – he began hanging out with Lyle Lovett and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. They encouraged his songwriting efforts and his first self-produced album of originals, Threadbare Alibies, caught the ear of Mike Curb, who signed him to Curb Records. During his major label career, Ketchum charted 14 country hits, placing six in the Top 10. He earned a gold record for 1991’s Past the Point of Rescue and sold more than five million albums. In 1998 he was diagnosed with acute transverse myelitis, a nerve disease similar to multiple sclerosis. He lost the use of the left side of his body for a time and stopped recording and performing. After relearning how to play guitar and sing, he went into the studio to cut I’m the Troubadour.
The blues, funk, pop, rock, gospel and R&B elements that made his songwriting unique are all in evidence here, and he’s in fine voce throughout this generous 15-song collection. “I Shall Remain” and “Lord Help Me Please” are secular love songs, but Ketchum’s simmering vocals and the sanctified organ and churchy piano gives the tracks a fervent gospel feeling. The title track sums up Ketchum’s life story in a couple of verses supported by a bubbling second line beat, jazzy Hammond B3 and snarling electric guitar. “Sweet Lureen” is a honky tonk rocker with a sly, sexy lyric; “Drive On” rides a simmering, swampy backbeat and “Midnight Works for Me” is a jaunty, guitar driven celebration the life that starts at sundown and goes on until the bleary eyed morning comes around. Minimal banjo frailing gives “Chickadee” an old time feel until a jazzy acoustic guitar solo turns the song inside out, while Ketchum’s whispered vocal on “New Mexico Man” compliments the tune’s smoky, late night feel, ending the record on a mellow, intimate note.
– j. poet