September 9, 2008
If you’re looking for slick productions that include loud drums, obligatory guitar solos or simply the polished sounds of today’s country music, this is not the album for you. However, if you were hoping for Hal Ketchum’s signature soulful but sensitive vocal prowess, thoughtful lyrics and gentle instrumentation that will actually allow you to focus on the words rather than being distracted by the production, Father Time will likely be an album that you’ll want to add to your music collection.
Because Hal Ketchum was lamenting the fact that musicians and artists didn’t seem to record together in the studio anymore, he was inspired to try to do it himself. As a result, he called his favorite musicians and created a live, direct to two track album where almost everyone gathered in the same room to record their parts. While this endeavor only took two days to produce and most songs were done in one or two takes, this album does not feel rushed. In fact, it flows with a relaxed ease that is mostly enticing and just a bit detrimental to the over all listening experience. Out of 14 songs, Ketchum wrote 13 of them, with the fourteenth being a cover of Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl.” Interestingly, the album is sequenced in the order that the tracks were recorded.
As the album’s title suggests, a prevailing theme throughout the project is time. Songs such as “Yesterday’s Gone”, “Invisible”, “Ordinary Day” and “When He Called Your Name” are some of the compositions that explore the perspective that often accompanies the passing of time. The opening song, “Invisible”, is from the viewpoint of a homeless man who is sad, but not bitter about the contemptuous manner with which people tend to look at him. While he acknowledges that he”has become expendable, untouchable, invisible”, he reveals that this hasn’t always been the case in his life. Ultimately, he benevolently wishes that the people around him will have “the gift of never being me.”
“Yesterday’s Gone” finds a younger man trying to make sense of mortality as he watches his grandfather fading away. He sings, “It’s hard to believe as I sit here and hold him/How mountains will crumble and Yesterday’s gone.” Another song that struggles with the affects of time is “Ordinary Day”, wherein we find a waitress who feels that her life has passed without accomplishing much for her to be proud of.
While Ketchum will likely be remembered for his ability to tell stories with sensitivity and introspection, his songs with dark humor should not be overlooked. In the melodically interesting “Continental Farewell”, Ketchum’s sensitivity is completely absent. The man is obviously not enjoying his rendezvous. Apparently, he feels that the woman’s incessant talking and sharing is more than he can handle. While she’s having a good time, he’s saying, “Your money’s on the dresser/adios/If you’re looking for love, you ain’t even close/It’s been a honeymoon, but I may chew my arm off soon/Your money’s on the dresser/Audios.” Furthermore, not to be outdone by the countless innuendos that have been prevalent in country music as of late, he sings, “Seems I was finished ten minutes ago/Clearly, you’re not finished yet/You’re painting rainbows/I’m fading to black/Don’t get me wrong, Dear/Just get.”
While a rather wide range of emotions can be found on this album, the most poignant track is the steel guitar laden “Sparrow.” As the best compositions about war tend to do, this song explores the reality of war and the dark effect that it has on soldiers. With detectable despair in his voice, Ketchum sings, “If I were a sparrow I would fly/And if I were alone now I would cry/But tears won’t bring my brothers back home to their mothers/Or bring comfort to a soul too young to die.”
The production on Father Time has a more mature quality to it that significantly affects the over all environment of the album, which is mostly positive as a result. However, not all of the production choices positively affect the record. There are admittedly times when the production is weak instead of being tastefully sparse and The album could have benefited from a bit more tempo as well. In addition, the oddly placed gospel choir style background singers that pervade the project are often distracting rather than inspiring.
The album as a whole, however, is solid and is surely worth adding to one’s Ketchum collection. While Father Time has its light moments, it is mostly full of the songs of a man who has matured into someone who is acutely aware of his mortality and its natural limitations. As a result, we are privileged to gain the insights of an artist who is strongly connected to the sensitivity of human emotions.