By Drew East
Being a reviewer is really a dream job. You get to discover new music that you’ve missed and sometimes music from established artists that you couldn’t catch either. There’s so much stuff out there with the ease of home-recording taking over the market that you’re bound to forget to check out something. Reviewers on the other hand have it easy and being one has led me to the music of Joshua Ketchmark and his 12th release Under Plastic Stars.
The gravel path opener “We Were Everything” sets the bar at a high quality level from the very beginning. Acoustic guitars mingle with Ketchmark’s sturdy voice as the song slowly picks up speed; allowing room for a few deep bass grooves and tapping, perhaps brush-played drums that keep the music always moving forward. “Every Mystery” reduces the atmospheric quality to a warm simmer nearly solely fronted by Ketchmark’s gleaming acoustic guitar work, trippy organ playing, countrified rhythms and full-throat vocals that really hit the melody mark. Taking things down a dirtier, danker alleyway “Let It Rain” goes for a downtempo, rhythm n’ blues feel with more focus provided on the bass guitar and piano than just simple guitar-centered shucking and jiving. The album’s first run ends with a mesmerizing ballad, “Lucky at Leavin’” that sees Joshua and a female vocalist giving a touching update on the Jones/Wynette classic harmony vocals.
Picking up the pace, “Hereafter” brings back the rhythm section alongside some twangy acoustic guitars and some summer-baked slide licks for a Mason Dixon sweetened ballad that acts as the perfect foil to the buzzing, rock n’ roll-y “Get Out Alive.” “Get out Alive” features some of the album’s only plugged in guitars and it’s a jam that would sure to bring a smoky club audience to their feet and cheering for the act so gracious enough to deliver it. “Saturday Night” stays uptempo but retains a thoughtful smolder in its hickory steamed guitar melodies, plaintive rhythms and heartfelt vocals that really dig under the skin and stick with you long after the album stops playing. “Harm’s Way” is another slice of delicious Carolina pie cut from folk/country cloth and mainly featuring Josh and his guitar howling away into the night. The glory bound “Sweet Surrender” utilizes piano to get its main point across while the rhythm section jostles Ketchmark’s vibrant guitar into some steady groove, although things never really take off on a rock n’ roll path again over the course of the record. “17” implants another stunning male/female duet into a livelier more rocking piece than the prior contemplation of “Lucky at Leavin’” while the closing duo of “Losing Control” and “The Great Unknown” end the album on a folk-country dirt road.
Everything about Under Plastic Stars is a musical home run; a true taste of musical Americana that’s as friendly and familiar is a Fourth of July cookout. This release is a modern classic of singer/songwriter chops with plenty of intricacies and variety woven into the aural fabric of Ketchmark’s chosen sound. If you like your music mostly acoustic based but unafraid of experimentation and great vocalizing, then this release is most certainly worth your time!