Joshua Ketchmark’s first solo album Under Plastic Stars isn’t an opening salvo, per se, but rather a culmination of a long journey. Hailing from Peoria, Illinois, Ketchmark has worked with and alongside of the music world’s true icons like Michael Jackson and important modern acts like Fuel, among many others, without ever turning his attentions towards a solo album until now. It is no over exaggeration to say this moment is akin to when a butterfly emerges. Ketchmark comes across a bit more rough hewn than some winged creature with splendid colors wafting through the air, but the comparison stands thanks to the outpouring of creativity marking his debut twelve song collection Under Plastic Stars. Self produced and recorded in Nashville, Under Plastic Stars has an uncommonly personal touch not reflected in confessional lyrics but, rather, by the level of intimacy he sustains over the course of these eleven songs.
The opener “We Were Everything” provides Under Plastic Stars with a rather pensive start thanks to its understated vocals, deliberate tempo, and acoustic guitars, but it’s a thoughtful opening curtain and reflects that aforementioned intimacy. Acoustic and electric guitar are brought together with an even greater degree of seamlessness on the song “Every Mystery” and the electric touches, in particular, bring and sustain color in the song it might have otherwise failed to achieve in its absence. Steel guitar makes its presence felt for the first time on the track “Let It Rain” and it nicely matches up with another track with languid pacing. There are some dramatic shifts in this song that never announce themselves with trumpets blaring, but rather with immense intelligence and cleverness. Ketchmark writes and performs accessible material, but it never panders to the lowest common denominator and this gentle song of yearning is one of the album’s finest examples of his artistry.
There’s a darker, bluesy hue surrounding the song “Get Out Alive” and the addition of discreet organ accompaniment lends some extra weight to another acoustic based track. The lyrical content focuses on character development above all else and it pays off with a memorable mix of music and narrative. There’s some memorable lead guitar near the song’s conclusion that gives the song even more punch. “Saturday Night” may be one of the album’s closest moments to a radio ready single and the chorus, especially, seems ideally suited for radio. Ketchmark’s singing is very effective here; it rates among the best vocals on the album. His talent for character development and eye for detail distinguish the songwriting on “17” and the tasteful musical arrangement is notable. The melodic virtues of this song are particularly strong, as are the earlier tracks, and Ketchmark’s sensitive vocal is among the album’s best as well.
The finale “The Great Unknown” more than lives up to its place in the track listing and closes Under Plastic Stars on a near rousing note. It’s far and away the liveliest tempo on the album and Ketchmark digs his heels in with a deeply satisfying vocal. Ketchmark and those who know him have waited a long time for this moment, when he stands under the spotlight, and he doesn’t disappoint. Under Plastic Stars relies a little much on mid tempo or slower tunes, but there’s ample promise here that Joshua Ketchmark will build on this with future efforts.