The Modern Beat

By Daniel Boyer

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“We Were Everything” begins Joshua Ketchmark’s Under Plastic Stars on a decidedly elegiac note, but this isn’t a dreary collection of songs. Ketchmark’s first full fledged solo effort, self-produced and written by Ketchmark, finds this longtime musical cohort of some of the music world’s biggest acts stepping out on his own with considerable talent and finesse. The primarily acoustic slant to this album is adorned with other touches like keyboards and even some occasional swaths of steel guitar, but you can’t comfortably consign it to a particular genre. “We Were Everything” has strong melodic virtues that continues with the second song “Every Mystery”, but the arrangement is a little more inventive and less straightforward than we hear from the first song. It doesn’t veer too far, however, from the tendencies established with “We Were Everything”.

The steel guitar present in “Let It Rain” is so thoroughly integrated with the rest of the arrangement that it never calls ostentatious attention to itself and, instead, proves to be just another color in Ketchmark’s toolbox. It’s easy to single this tune out as one of the undisputed high points on Under Plastic Stars and the emphatic nature of Ketchmark’s singing signals he views the song in a similar manner. “Lucky at Leavin’” sounds like it might be some classic country cut, based on title alone, but it’s actually a lush and carefully wrought acoustic number, folk for the most part, that benefits from a swell of keyboard color strengthening its sound. Ketchmark’s singing hits another high water mark with this tune that will, undoubtedly, linger in listener’s memories long after the song ends. “Hereafter” is particularly effective thanks to Brad Rice’s sinewy electric guitar lines crackling throughout the performance and another impassioned vocal never risking overwrought theatrics.

“Get Out Alive” has a little more of a rough hewn gait than the earlier tunes and owes its roots to the blues much more than anything else so far. It’s an evocative piece lyrically and Ketchmark brings just enough gravel into his voice to make this character dissection all the more convincing. He hits another high point with the commercial potential of “Saturday Night”, but Ketchmark isn’t a performer pursuing the path of least resistance. Instead, he throws himself into this tune for all he’s worth and it reaches heights the earlier songs never explore. “In Harm’s Way” is a largely solo acoustic tune incorporating more sounds in the second half and has a pleasing melodic core that will draw many listeners into its web.

“Sweet Surrender” takes some of the same template we hear with the song “Saturday Night” but, instead of relying on guitars, brings piano in to great effect and Ketchmark’s voice responds in kind with a showstopper of a vocal. The near orchestral sweep of this song stands out from the rest and makes it one of Under Plastic Stars’ more memorable moments. The last track “The Great Unknown” adopts a busier tempo than we’ve heard with much of the album and, thus, brings the release to an energetic close. Joshua Ketchmark’s Under Plastic Stars is an obviously personal work, but the entry points for listeners are numerous and inviting.