Ole Opry Star and Living
NEWS: Hal will be taking
the next year off from
Touring and performing.
is no ordinary artist bio. But then
Hal Ketchum is no ordinary artist.
First of all, he possesses, as noted
by USA Today, "the most
effervescent voice in country music."
But, of course, you already knew that.
More to the point, when we joined
Hal at the Curb Records office in
Nashville last February, his new album
had yet to be titled. In fact, it
had yet to be finished. He hadn't
even made final decisions on which
songs to record. "Actually,"
he said, "we might cut a whole
other ten and start all over."
We laugh—it is absurd to talk
about an album that's still in its
early stages. Still, Ketchum makes
it clear that none of this worries
him. He's taking his time on this
one. And he knows that when it is
finished, it'll be the album he was
meant to make at this stage of his
life. How does he know this? Simple:
The seeds have been planted and he
can feel them grow.
The most obvious of these is the album's
first single, "Just This Side
of Heaven," which debuted in
January at number 58 on Billboard.
Everything about this song is right
for Ketchum: Its message is on target.
The melody and the musicians lock
together in an inspired dance. Most
important, it moves him to sing at
the peak of his power and—this
being Hal Ketchum —that's a
lot of peak, so to speak.
What about that seed metaphor? It's
simple, but it's different—revolutionary,
even. After all, Ketchum has already
conquered country music through playing
by its own rules:
quick ticket to fame with his
first single, "Small Town
Saturday Night," which
hit number one, and gold debut
album, Past the Point of Rescue,
subsequent string of hits, including
but not limited to "I Know
Where Love Lives," "Hearts
Are Gonna Roll," "Stay
Forever," "Five O'Clock
World," "Sure Love,"
and "I Miss My Mary",
adding up to fifteen hits in
the top ten—and five of
those in the top five;
than four million total CD sales;
in the Grand Ole Opry since
of his own songs by artists
as varied as Neil Diamond, Trisha
Yearwood and Air Supply.
But he's also done things his way,
from performing at a concert of his
music set to dance by the Nashville
Ballet to continuing his lifelong
interest in woodworking to exhibiting
original artworks at a prestigious
gallery in New Mexico.
And when it suits him to plant a different
kind of seed, he'll do that—just
as he was doing even as we spoke about
his upcoming album.
"In the past, the rule was: Cut
a record and then pick the single,"
he explains. "This time it's:
Pick the single and then build a record
around it. You can build a record
around a singular voice—and
I'm speaking of 'voice' on two levels,
not just the audible but also the
Hal Ketchum is a builder. He was,
on this cold February morning in Nashville,
in the midst of building a new porch
onto his house. . ."building"
a new painting in the studio he keeps
next to his music room at home. .
.and building the spirit and substance
of his album. What makes this interesting
is that, at this moment, he had no
idea where his endeavors would take
them—but every confidence that
each destination would make his efforts
Of course, that leaves us at an interesting
point too—assigned to complete
a new bio of this multifaceted entertainer,
who had come to country music as a
young upstate New Yorker, began playing
drums at age fifteen, and wound up
writing songs, playing dance hall
gigs, and working full-time as a cabinetmaker
in San Marcos before moving on to
Nashville and claiming his place among
That's all old news, of course. The
new news is that Ketchum is back with
his first album in two years. And
be sure that whatever ends up on it
is the product of a master builder,
a conscientious planter of seeds and
an artistic range that's rare in country
or any other kind of music.
Ketchum is back with a shimmering
new effort that boasts a radio-friendly
melody and singalong chorus.
'Just This Side of Heaven (Hal-Lelujah)'
is a well-written love song
riddled with romantic imagery.
The best part of this delicious
treat is Ketchum's vocal. He
has long had one of the most
unique voices in the industry.
He is a stylist in the best
sense of the word, an artist
able to infuse any lyric with
a sense of drama and urgency.
This should remind programmers
why he was blessed with a string
of hits early on in his career.
Here's hoping his brethren at
country radio show him a little
—Deborah Evans Price,
Billboard, February 18,