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New Pick of the Week

August 25, 1994|RANDY LEWIS

Hal Ketchum

"Every Little Word"

Curb

As both vocalist and songwriter, Hal Ketchum brings heart and song craft together frequently. His new album holds catchy choruses and emotional punch in equal esteem.

His smoky drawl gives his songs a soulful R & B accent that has long set him apart from the sea of Haggard and Jones imitators. He can sound as purely country as any on a waltz like "No Easy Road," then turn convincingly bluesy in the country funk of "Drive On."

He stretches impressively beyond cliche in the songs he co-writes--nine out of 10 here. He sings authoritatively about hitting rock bottom in "That's What I Get for Losin' You" ("If you think love is so sweet and kind / Just come and see me at closin' time)."

But even when he turns as brightly optimistic as he does in "(Tonight We Just Might) Fall in Love Again," which he wrote with ex-NRBQ mainstay Al Anderson, that optimism is earned, having been tempered with the experience of a real struggle to hold onto a love.

Its chorus is as catchy as they come, shifting from major-key verses to a chorus full of minor-key twists that finally lead back to major as he sings about burying the hatchet: Let's put aside the pain and all the sorrow / Stop talkin' 'bout the way things might have been / If we'd only throw our hearts into tomorrow / Tonight we just might fall in love again.

"Swing Low" is the type of song that Nashville studiously avoids because it provides no pat solutions to life's thorny problems. At the end of this song about a man who encounters a single mother and her baby, he says he can't get them out of his mind and wonders what might have been had he not gone on his way so soon.

It's a bittersweet but refreshingly real slice of life that's all too rare in today's formula-bound country music.

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