I’m the Troubadour
Music Road Records

Having gotten through a bout of mainstream stardom back in the early ’90s — and a long run surviving on a major label even through leaner years — with his dignity intact, Hal Ketchum now carries the torch for his particular brand of earthy, folk-tinged country music on a more independent level. The recording budgets might be smaller nowadays, but whatever else the years may have wrought, they haven’t been unkind to Ketchum’s voice in the slightest: equal parts buoyant and old-soul husky, his indie work still sounds like a million bucks. A New York native who cut his songwriting teeth in the Texas Hill Country, his latest release, I’m the Troubadour, still reflects influences like Delbert McClinton (the swaggering title track and “Sweet Loreen”), Doug Sahm (the catchy pulse of “Baby I’m Blue”), and Guy Clark (the wistful narrative of “Devil Moon”). But mostly — and at least partly due to unnecessary-but-formidable retakes on his own older hits “Stay Forever” and “I Know Where Love Lives” — Ketchum just sounds like himself. “I’m a poet, but I’m trying to be a sage/Hold this pen and watch it slide across the page,” he intones on the purposeful songwriting ode “Midnight Works for Me.” Some of his words hit harder than others, but Ketchum hasn’t hit a bad note in his life. — MIKE ETHAN MESSICK

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