By Laura Dodero
A longtime collaborator and sideman for many important and legendary musicians, Joshua Ketchmark has made his way in the modern music world based on work ethic and talent. It’s little wonder that his first effort at a solo album, Under Plastic Stars, turns out to be such a satisfying effort – these songs are long gestating gems further energized by his obvious commitment to the material. Ketchmark’s work definitely falls in the singer/songwriter category, but he’s much more storyteller than confessional would-be poet. Make no mistake, however – the twelve songs on Under Plastic Stars are noteworthy for their intelligence and often jaw-dropping eye for detail. There are a couple of moments when Ketchmark is definitely appealing to a potential mass audience and Under Plastic Stars needs at least one more uptempo songs at the expense of one of the slower numbers, but this is an album nonetheless full of riches.
“We Were Everything” starts the album off on a bold foot. Rather than going for the gusto and ushering us into his musical world with some sort of brisk, rollicking number. Instead, Ketchmark begins things in an introspective mood and the song throbs with emotion while never seeming too overwrought. The muted percussion and memorable melodies powering “Every Mystery” perfectly frames one of Ketchmark’s songs of yearning and he invokes the required emotions, once again, without ever straining for effect. “Let It Rain”, the album’s third song, is another number when there’s an obvious concern with establishing a musical mood and Ketchmark succeeds spectacularly without ever hamming things up too much. The clear discernment driving his performances is one of the key elements setting him apart from the pack and it comes through in every song.
“Hereafter” is one of the album’s more musically forceful numbers, but doesn’t deviate from the same patient tempos defining the earlier songs. The electric guitar is the difference maker here and Brad Rice’s guitar has an almost painterly touch with its ability to add color to the song. “Sweet Surrender” is, far and away, the album’s best ballad or the closest thing to it and should exert widespread appeal with both devotees and casual music fans alike. The piano is the straw that stirs the melodic drink here and Ketchmark plays off it quite beautifully, but bass player Dave Webb and drummer Kenny Wright make their mark as well. “!7” is another fine peak on the album and its finest character portrayal – Ketchmark shows deft touches throughout that other songwriters simply wouldn’t include and it makes for a more engrossing storytelling experience. “Losing Control” mixes the tempos up a little and it comes nicely as the band gets to unleash at something more than a slow match and they breeze through those respective parts of the song with the same loose limbed precision we hear elsewhere. “The Great Unknown”, as well, shows a more energetic pace and Ketchmark offers up one of his best vocals on the album to close it out. Under Plastic Stars isn’t a flawless effort, by many means, but Ketchmark’s first solo foray is rewarding in every way.