Hal Ketchum likes to talk and sing about his family members who live in Texas and, of all places, upstate New York. Thursday night at the Egg’s Swyer Theater he offered refreshing, fun stories about his former wife, his new wife, his grandkids and his parents, each story followed by a song about or for them.
Ketchum performed with Kenny Grimes, both on stools with acoustic guitars, Grimes doing the heavy lifting while Ketchum carried the vocals and strummed chords for most of the songs.
They opened with “Past the Point of Rescue,” the hit and title track from Ketchum’s 1991 record, saying, “I think it’s the most beautiful song I ever heard.”
He followed with a silly song that he called “distasteful,” and joked that it was the song that got him released from his long-time record company Curb records. “Their definition of ethics was that they stabbed you in the front.”
He then sang “I Know Where Love Lives,” which he wrote for Barbara, his first wife, whom he says he gets along with and shares five grandchildren. It’s a nice, fast moving song with a Lyle Lovett feel.
“Awaiting Redemption,” which he made for a movie that only used eight seconds of the song, was a blues-rock tune that Grimes used for a slick solo.
“I like to change the name of our band every night,” Ketchum told us. “Tonight we’re the ‘Staggering Prophets.’”
He talked a little about being on tour with Jerry Jeff Walker, and then sang a beautiful, sad song called “I Miss My Mary,” inspired by a guy he met at a bar during the tour. Probably the prettiest song of the night.
He subtly slipped in his hit “Hearts Are Gonna Roll,” announcing softly, “This song went to number one.” The only song of the night that didn’t get a story.
His numerous jokes drew big laughs and his songs brought sustained applause when finished. Ketchum didn’t play guitar on several tunes, just sang, citing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis he has had for the past 15 years.
His brother Frank and wife of one year, Andrea, were both in the audience. For her he sang “I Shall Remain,” a song with a different tone than his others — more like a prophetic Leonard Cohen statement than a country tune, with wonderful lines like, “The more I love you, the less I roam, here with you, I shall remain.”
While the two players filled out the songs nicely with their acoustics, occasionally you felt the loss of a full band during the blues-rock tunes like, “Drive On,” and the title track from his new record “I’m the Troubador,” a great song that might have been a hit in another time.
He finished his list of staple hits with “Small Town Saturday Night,” one of his biggest that stirred the crowd more than most.
While he lives in Texas and feels southern through and through, Ketchum was raised in Greenwich in Washington County.
A few tunes he could have skipped, like “Chick-a-dee,” a song he wrote for his grandkids. He said “no” to most requests from the audience, except for “Momma Knows the Highway.” “I like that song,” he said, then turned to Grimes to ask if he knew it. Grimes began to play it on the guitar and they were off. This was one of the more genuine moments of the night.
Ketchum and Grimes played a good show together. A full band would have been more exciting, but the audience seemed excited enough to hear one of their favorite singer songwriters deliver a wide variety from a long career.