Oregon-born and Boise Idaho-based Tylor Ketchum is a distant relative of Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum, a Texas outlaw and was part of the train-robbing Hole-In-The-Wall Gang, who serves as inspiration for the band’s name and the new album’s six-minute centrepiece, ‘The Ballad Of Black Jack Ketchum’. Part sung, part spoken in the titular character’s voice, set to a largely chugging rhythm and a Tennessee Rose Gretch guitar with the lyrics featuring the title line, it’s a narrative country number recounting Ketchum’s notorious career and Best Of The Worst Kind, which features his image on the cover, is released to coincide with the anniversary of his hanging.
The band comprises Ketchum, his brother Jason Bushman on bass, and the generation older Johnny “Shoes” Pisano on lead guitar and Flip Perkins on drums, the rest of the tracks are more of a Red Dirt country nature, opening with the ringing guitar work and steady drum beat ‘Lost And Lonely Miles’, a life on the road number, has him asking “did you take the hard way, was it the way to go? If you take it easy on yourself you might think you have nothing left to know.” The musical framework’s reinforced with the mid-tempo drawled escape-themed ‘Before It’s Too Late’ and the kickbeat strummed and twangsome shuffle ‘Good At Bad News’ about taking adversity with a stoical attitude.
Featuring lap steel, the reflective Storyteller, an ode to his grandfather celebrating a tale well spun, showcases the band’s slower, more acoustic aspects and squeezes in a reference to James Arness’s role as Marshall Dillon on 60s TV Western series Gunsmoke, as does the resigned closing strings-embossed ‘Place Like This’ where he sings “In a place like this, it’s easy not to give a damn” and the carry on and hope it works out ‘Pave Your Way’, on both of which Ketchum’s underlying John Prine influences make themselves felt.
For the most part, however, things move along at a mid to uptempo pace, the songs built around a memorable hooks-laden melody live, descending chords and a catchy chorus, Ketchum’s laid back delivery and voice at times reminiscent of Steve Earle or Mike Cooley from Drive By Truckers. ‘Still Getting High’, the melody of which in part calls early Guy Clark to mind, takes a swipe at organised religion, suggesting we’d all get along better without it “and see all there is to see before we judge” and how “this black and white world could use a little color”, and the train-time rhythm ‘Fumbling For Rhymes’ turns its eye on making music for a living, and wishing it paid better.
Things get a touch funkier for the bassline led ‘Construction’ (a song that will strike a chord with anyone who’s been delayed by roadworks on their way home) and the choppy Pisano licks and bluesy harmonica of ‘Hide Your Goat’, the title (and lyrical message) a reference to Steve Gilliland’s motivational book Strategies to Stay Positive When Negativity Surrounds You. The remaining track, ‘Few And Far Between’, sees Ketchum share the vocal spotlight in an acoustic-based, mandolin-flecked lovers parting duet with his fiancé, and Pisano’s daughter, Jennifer.
It doesn’t set out to push any envelopes or be more than what it is. What is it is being a solid, highly listenable album of Southern-streaked Americana crammed with hummable tunes and well-crafted lyrics that deserves to find a wide audience.
Artists’ website: www.tylorandthetrainrobbers.com
‘The Ballad Of Black Jack Ketchum’ – official video: