By Frank McClure
It all started with the debut of MTV for singer/songwriter Joshua Ketchmark. Being turned onto the channel during its birth, the volley of new music videos emerging for the first time sent Ketchmark in a search for his mother’s old acoustic guitar. Soon he was writing riffs, then he was writing songs and finally he started jamming with his friends at rehearsals at his own house and around the neighborhood. That boyhood dream is now 12 albums strong with a firm foothold in the music world that has introduced him personally to Melissa Etheridge, 90s rockers fuel, megastar producer Michael Beinhorn and even the members of KISS! You can’t write a much better rags to rocking story than Ketchmark’s and his is even better because the whole thing is based in reality.
Under Plastic Stars is the culmination of a decade plus long music career that just keeps getting better and better. Across the dozen tunes heard on this recording, there are many different moods, textures and instrumental variances to be found. The traditional rock band format is used on certain tracks, while others play out as vintage singer/songwriter affairs fronted by nothing more than vocals and an acoustic yet other songs bring in harmony vocalists, organs and keyboards to complement Ketchmark’s shifting compositional style. These are all original cuts and Joshua has really proven himself at this juncture to be a more than capable songwriter.
Pieces such as the lucid opener “We Were Everything” and its combination of acoustic folk and light rhythmic groove, the gorgeous Nashville style vocal duets and American gothic organ of “Lucky at Leavin’,” and “17” along with the Dylan-esque “Harm’s Way” all operate mostly on slinking moods, soft instrumentation and huge melodic vocal hooks that paint vivid, storytelling pictures of love, loss and life from Joshua’s introspective point of view. Sometimes it’s the beauty of the soft back-up vocals and the way Ketchmark harmonizes or the glistening gleam of an old rustic organ playing a haunting passage that gives each of these compositions their robust flavor. There’s an organic development and unfolding to each track with just the right amount of tricks added to the musical foundations to make their memory last a lifetime.
There are no weak links to be discussed when viewing this album as a whole and it’s as a whole that it is best experience with the songs forming an arc that only gets stronger with repeated listening. The riff-y and rockin’ “Get Out Alive” even electrifies the guitars for another change of pace while its sister track “Saturday Night” manages to retain the rock attitude while digging into the meat of the track with solely acoustic instrumentation.
You never know what each new track will bring on Under Plastic Stars and that’s part of the allure. In a sea of cookie-cutter artists Joshua Ketchmark stands as a true original making his mark on the musical landscape at large. With superb songwriting and fantastic instrumental work, there is no reason that Ketchmark shouldn’t be a household name in just a few more years of time.