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Album Review: Ben Rector - Brand New

September 3, 2015

written by Ross Cleveland

At Student Activities, we try to bring in artists and bands from an array of genres. Most recently, we were able to invite Johnnyswim and Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors to perform at Block Party 2015. For those who went to Block Party, we hope you enjoyed the show and the night as a whole. Johnnyswim and Drew Holcomb are just a couple of the many artists and bands that are able to produce not just great music, but music that has a story to it. I love to be able to listen to an entire album in one sitting, because it lets me see how each song contributes to a bigger story.

Ben Rector is one of those artists for me. Over the past couple years, I have known several couples who want to use Ben’s music, such as his song “White Dress”, to be in their wedding one day. I mention this as I believe couples want a song like “White Dress” because it addresses honest and personal issues that provide joy and excitement for the future, a song that can be the start of, and forever part of, their story.

That brings me to Ben Rector’s latest album Brand New. The first song I want to bring to your attention is “The Men That Drive Me Places.” He talked about this song following one of his most recent shows this summer:  

“I started talking to cab drivers because I travel a lot, and it is interesting because most of the time those drivers are brilliant. Through the encounters and conversations, I realized that I am a product of my circumstances, and upbringing. I say that in regard to not just myself, but actually all of us. I mean even through parents that instilled hard work and positive reinforcement, I had a great start and foundation, and many people do not have that. Thus, after talking to many of these drivers, I saw that each driver was hardworking, diligent, and spent lots of time giving back through driving, but receive such small rewards… so I wrote a song.” (watch the video)

I mention this introduction because it goes back to the real life stories embedded in Rector’s songs. If someone were to ask me: “What word first comes to mind to describe Ben Rector’s music?” I would have to say: stories. “The Men That Drive Me Places” is the story of a man named Howard, “who drives a minivan with the cruise ships from Ft. Lauderdale, and it’s been that way since 1994…Oh isn't that just the way it goes, you’re dealt a good hand and you get celebrated. Oh how am I the only one who knows I'm half the man of the men who drive me places.”

Another album highlight is “Favorite Songs”, which mentions many influential artists and songs, including Steven Tyler, Madonna, and even Smash Mouth’s “All-Star”, that have impacted many people. It shows Ben’s ability to be relatable to each and every listener through upbeat melodies and easy lyrical patterns.

There is even a story while Ben is on an airplane with the desire to introduce himself to a man who has been “better, has been worse, chased after pretty girls, and seen the kind of places he never thought he’d see. He has walked into harder times, and even walked out the other side; but it seems like you get up what you need and when looking down from 30,000 feet, life has been good to me” (30,000 Feet). It’s an interaction between Ben and another person building a relationship, and it’s a story that we can probably relate to: we have good times, and we have walked into hard times, but in the end, life has been good. It’s the hope for our life that, despite hardships, we can see the blessings we have been given, and we can only thank God for who we have become.

To end the album, Ben writes a slow song called “More Like Love” that shows Ben’s heart in being a musician and performing in front of large crowds. Ben declares his desire to just be “more like love” especially in a world that seems so crazy, a world that does not have enough love sometimes, and that even without all the answers, we still seek to embody love.

The song I want to close with is the one that opens up the album. It is an important introduction, acting as a short anthem for the listener to “Make Something Beautiful” in a world that is filled with sin and destruction. The person that makes something beautiful could provide hope, just like the album Brand New, which I think achieves this through the honest, personal, and relatable stories that are the basis for the songs on this album.

If you haven’t listened to the album, I encourage you to check it out.