By Jay Snyder
From the opening, gentle strum the heart-warming, tumbleweed kicking love song, “We Were Everything” and culminating in the rhythmically pulsating, winding electric guitar leads and spitfire soul vocals of closer “The Great Unknown,” it’s clear that Joshua Ketchmark has arrived. Hailing from his humble beginnings in Peoria, Illinois and eventually carving a path to every big-time music city in the USA (LA just to name one of many places), Ketchmark is now twelve releases strong in a music career that spans too many genres to count. Though he primarily operates in old school folk, country, pop and r & b, he also branches out into rock, blues and delicate balladry whenever the mood strikes him.
After the fiery lead-in of “We Were Everything,” Joshua switches into ballad mode with quiet acoustic guitar, deeply mixed and layered keyboards/organ, minimalist percussion and meditative bass lines that release a cathartic yet minor increase in volume during the song’s chorus. All throughout his vocals a powerful and effortless in their melodic capabilities; a goldmine that he willingly pans to great riches on successive soft numbers like the ol’ tyme harmony duet remedy of “Lucky at Leavin’” and the dreamy surrealism of “Harm’s Way.” It’s but one small side of the many faces of his finest record to date, Under Plastic Stars.
Despite his tender side, Ketchmark showcases some gruff hurdy gurdy on the tumbling, slow-motion blues of “Let It Rain” where a baroque, buzzing keyboard melody and thumping, low-slung bass presence lend a ton of musical weight alongside the singer’s hearty vocals. His guitar is pulled back into more of support role on this number and it greatly benefits from the change-up in songwriting tactics. “Get Out Alive” also scorches in its second-half; applying a soothing, folk-country salve led by a playful backbeat in the early going before diving into some electric lead guitar and head-nodding action later down the line. The piano-laced “Sweet Surrender” and the tranquil folk-pop of “Hereafter” showcase the more modern tinges of Ketchmark’s writing with this particular pair of compositions reckoning a bit of recent trailblazers like James Blunt and Daughtry, whereas the fuzzy guitar twang and country licks of “Saturday Night” and “Losing Control” build-up into a catchy gallop thanks to great supportive work by the rhythm section and another commanding lead vocal extravaganza from Joshua. The sultry “17” may just be the album’s best kept secret with excellent female vocal accompaniment only highlighting the wonderful melodies that Ketchmark brings forth from his subconscious.
Under Plastic Stars is a triumph of glory and soul. It’s a record that comes as much from the head as it does from the heart. There is brain to the songwriting, arranging and playing, but you can tell that Ketchmark and his collaborators are operating off of sheer passion just as much as they are the statistical, pitch-perfect production end of the spectrum. All of these factors combine into an invigorating and enticing listen that’s sure to warrant multiple listens in different moods and settings to get the most out of the record; well-done and highly recommended for certain.