Ever since his first #1 hit in 1991, "Small Town Saturday Night," Hal Ketchum has been a bankable Country Music star. Curb Music moved their operations from LA to Nashville based on founder Mike Curb's faith in Ketchum's ability to be "a cornerstone artist." Since 1991 Ketchum has generated fifteen top ten singles and sold over five million albums for the label. In 1994 he became a member of the Grande Ole Opry and often hosts the "Opry Live" show on GAC. On his latest release, Father Time, Ketchum proves he still has that special skill to turn "wishes into tears…" with his finely nuanced vocals and carefully honed songwriting skills.
Any doubts you might have about Hal Ketchum's current songwriting chops will be extinguished halfway through the first verse of the CD's opening song, "Expendable." The combination of poignant lyrics with an addicting melody creates a powerful song. Thirteen of the fourteen compositions on Father Time were written or co-written by Ketchum. The one exception, Tom Waits' "Jersey Girl," demonstrates Ketchum's not merely a great songwriter, but also a captivating performer. His countrified rendition of Waits' signature number captures the song's pathos but moves it well south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Unlike most big-time country recordings, which are carefully built by sculpting a multiplicity of separately recorded parts into a unified whole, Father Time was recorded direct to two tracks with no overdubs. Finished in only two days, Ketchum admits, "When I went into this project, my mentality was that this is either going to work or not." By the end of the first day nine songs were successfully recorded. Working with a wish-list of musicians that included Bryan Sutton on lead guitar, Dennis Crouch on bass, Aubrey Haynie on fiddle, and Darrell Scott on rhythm guitar, Ketchum set up the musicians so they could all see and hear each other. The songs were all arranged organically on the fly. The resulting music has an immediacy and sonic purity that harkens back to the first rockabilly and country hits from Sun Studio or Owen Bradley's barn. From an audiophile perspective, I've rarely heard an album with a larger or more expansive soundstage, better sense of natural ambience, or a more vibrant dynamic palette.I have no doubt that Father Time is the best mainstream country album of 2008. It easily ranks among my top ten CDs of 2008. If you haven't heard it, you're missing out on something very special.