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Hal Ketchum

I'm the Troubadour – 2014 (Music Road)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Hal Ketchum

Hal Ketchum has rarely ventured out of traditional country realms, and for good reason. With 10 previous albums to his credit, a career that stretches back nearly 30 years, and no less than 17 singles on the country charts - and a half dozen of those reaching well into the Top Ten -- his country credentials are exceedingly well established.

Nevertheless, Ketchum's career got started in a somewhat unlikely locale, that being Greenwich Village, where he was born and began drumming in a band at an especially early age. A move to Texas in 1981 offered him added exposure, but it was his belated relocation to Nashville that finally found him hitting his stride.

"I'm the Troubadour" offers evidence that he's come into his own, courtesy of an album that broadens its reach into the realms of folk, roots and Americana. Ketchum's rugged resolve is especially prominent on songs such as "Baby I'm Yours," "Devil Moon," "Drive On," and "Midnight Works For Me." But equally significantly, Ketchum also shows a penchant for emotional resilience, as expressed through such brittle ballads as a reprise of his 1995 hit "Stay Forever," "The Saddle" and the folk-infused "New Mexican Rain." The music is remarkably affecting throughout, and at the same time, it feels equally emphatic.

Ultimately, the appropriately dubbed "I'm the Troubadour" strings its sentiments along like a finely crafted narrative, one that rises and falls on the reflections and reminiscences of the man responsible for penning its songs. Producer Jimmy LaFave is a worthy collaborator in this journey, and his commitment to the project is evidenced not only by his role behind the boards, but also by the fact that Ketchum is now recording for Music Road Records, LaFave's own label. It's terrific absolute synergy, and more importantly, it's honest and sincere. That in itself makes "I'm the Troubadour" absolutely worthy of recognition.