Gather Nashville's A-list string players, hunker down together in the main room of a studio and cut a record in two days. How...retro. That was Hal Ketchum's plan for his latest record, and the veteran singer-songwriter pulls it off with nearly flawless execution. The 14-track album - largely written by the upstate New York native - is a refreshing contrast to the cluttered, over-layered sonics marking many of today's country records.
Acoustic country at a premier level, there's the subtle fiddle-guitar play backing Ketchum's warm, easy vocals on Strangest Dreams, the weepy steel guitar on the lonely Civil War ode Sparrow, and the compelling mandolin riffs on Let Me Go and The Preacher and I, a Darrell Scott-esque tune which Ketchum says is the first song he ever wrote. There's even a wry, bare-bones take on Tom Waits' Jersey Girl.
The album's live vibe has its trappings - minor though they may be. There are occasional lapses of sameness, as one track seemingly runs into the next. Entry to the album takes a couple close listens. But once you're in, it's as if Ketchum and his mates are picking away on your living room sofa.