Back in the early 1990s, Hal Ketchum was the male counterpart to Mary-Chapin Carpenter: a folk artist with just enough down-home grit to be accepted in the country market. The New York State-born singer/songwriter never pretended to be a Southern rebel or Texas honky-tonk type. But as Hal Ketchum: The Hits (1994) makes clear, he was able to reach across the cultural divide thanks to his rugged-yet-sensitive vocal style and tuneful mixture of bluegrass and acoustic rock elements. The tracks here — mostly drawn from Ketchum’s first three Curb albums — testify to his attraction to working-class characters, bittersweet love stories and backroads America. Tunes like “Small Town Saturday Night,””Sure Love” and “Mama Knows The Highway” sparkle with a hearty optimism and sly humor. Hal’s more reflective side is heard in his moody cover of “Past The Point Of Rescue” and his own “I Miss My Mary.” Towards the mid-‘90s, his singles grew a bit more poppy, as the genial “That’s What I Get For Losin’ You” and “Hang In There Superman” indicate. Ketchum’s melancholy-tinged voice remained his signature throughout his hitmaking years. This “best-of” collection shows why his insightful and staunchly-melodic brand of folk-country still holds appeal.