OK Kid Recordings
Release Date: March 11th 2022
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Dream On
- Supernatural (feat. Dave Koz)
- Living My Best Life
- Steady Love
- Sunday (feat. Snoop Dogg)
- Thank You
- Hanging Out (feat. Kenny G)
- We Will Never Be This Young Again
- It Would Be You
- Clichés (feat. Taylor Goldsmith)
Have I just stumbled across the album of the year? Even though I perhaps prematurely concluded that Sofia Carson’s self-titled debut album was THE album to listen to as I reviewed that album as a ‘comeback’ review from around about a month’s break from reviewing; I reckon I now have to revisit this bold assertion. Sure, Sofia’s album is inspiring, impacting, engaging, powerful, vulnerable and honest; but The Joy Of Music from Ben Rector (which released a few weeks ago!), on second and third listens, is on another level altogether! And after voicing my opinions on the lacklustre project Higher from Michael Bublé; Ben’s infectious and contagious melodies of positivity, optimism, and joy (no pun intended!), is just what we all need as a human race, especially after the chaotic Oscars and the Smith/Rock incident a few days ago. Now to be fair, I haven’t really dived deep into Ben’s discography at all, and I only knew the song “Brand New”; but after a glowing recommendation from former Hawk Nelson front-man Jon Steingard (I still follow Jon on Twitter despite differing views on faith!), I decided to take the plunge and listen to Ben’s 13-track album of cathartic, healing and soothing melodies. Ben’s album may be underrated; but let me tell you, it is a gem worth diving deep into, even if you don’t love pop music at all!
It was literally like, just go out and do what you love [the process of making this album]. This sounds so trite and cheesy, but it’s actually what happened. I was kind of remembering why I loved music because I hadn’t been able to access that feeling as easily because it had just gotten so complicated. I hadn’t been able to just sit in the part that I loved the same way as when I started. Because when I started, nobody cared, and I was just writing music all the time…The more it’s grown it’s just gotten mixed in with other things.
I didn’t realize how much this stage of life is a part of the record. I do think there’s a little bit of a gap, in especially Pop music where so much of it is about escapism and so much of it is these mountaintop moments. I think that on some level, 1. I’m not here to do a good job making that kind of music because that’s not what my life looks like and 2. I’m kind of like ‘Oh, there’s not that many people that are singing about this kind of stuff and this is the only kind of stuff that I know about.’ So I am excited to say that stuff and make hopefully Pop music that is relatable and kind of real. And that’s not to say that other Pop music is not real, it’s just not necessarily what my life is like. It makes me pumped to be like ‘Oh sweet, people can see themselves in this music because there really isn’t a lot of music that is about this kind of stuff. These days it’s mostly about escaping your life or whatever and this is more like ‘We’re here, let’s soak it in’…
Faith has always kind of been a frame or a lens that I look at the world through. I think on this record I just felt a little bit more free for whatever reason. So a song like ‘Thank You’, that’s one of the feels where it’s just like ‘This is what I want to say to God and it’s a simple thing and somehow I can still say that even though there are times where I’m like ‘Man, I don’t understand this or this doesn’t make sense to me’, I think that it came from an earnest place. That’s really important to me because I never would want to mix commerce with something that I think is supposed to be pure and important. And also, I would never want to say something that I didn’t totally sign off on that was like ‘Oh man, I think it’s more complicated than that’. I think in a weird way ‘Thank You’ is something that I can still say at the age I am now with the way that I see the world now that I also probably could have said when I was 15 and I think those things are hard to come by sometimes. I was just excited to get to say something that I felt like a simple statement of gratitude. I think anyone can say that, even if someone’s like not a religious person, they can probably say and believe that ‘Hey, I’m just thankful for the life that I have, for my health or whatever’. I was just super excited to get to write that song because it can be a tough needle to thread sometimes, and I feel like that one came together in a good way.
I didn’t know what I would be getting myself into when delving into The Joy Of Music, but I’m glad I actively listened to this album… simply because it’s an epic masterpiece. Sure, the album cover can be a bit childish, with the puppet reminding me of the Muppets and Sesame Street, but the intention of being childish in this album works. As we become older, cynicism, distrust and paranoia can seep into our souls and our very beings, and Ben is encouraging us to set aside our prejudices and preconceptions for a bit, and just bask in the presence of the Holy Spirit moving and ministering to our souls. A self-profession believer in Jesus, Ben inspires us to live a joyful life through this album, and the opener “Dream On” is the perfect epitome of this fact. A simple, piano only track, Ben invites us to dream our wildest dreams and to never give up on our goals. To be like children, in that sense, and to express our hopes, dreams and ideas for our life and the wider world we live in; Ben ardently relays that we can indeed dream and wonder, despite what the haters might believe. As Ben eloquently sings out ‘…dream on, dream on, even when you’re afraid all your dreams may be gone, just dream on, dream on, when the world says you’re crazy just tell them they’re wrong and dream on…’; we are inspired to chase our dreams for ourselves, and not for anyone else. It doesn’t matter if we fail, it only matters if we try.
The rest of the Joy Of Music firmly places Ben at the forefront of creating pop music with meaningful lyrics, with each track feeling musically fresh yet also invoking timeless truths and heart-warming messages that are relevant today as well as within the coming weeks and months and maybe years. “Supernatural” (clearly religious and spiritual in its title, but still presumably impactful for people of no faith as well!), features saxophonist Dave Koz, and speaks about the wonder and the mysteries of creation; with Ben concluding that he firmly believes that there is a God and that He is in control. Usually, a mainstream artist isn’t that outspoken about matters of faith, but Ben does this in a way that is refreshing, revitalising and invigorating; while “Living My Best Life”, a pure pop song with a message, fervently highlights to us that Ben is content right now with living his best life and on his terms- knowing who He is, His identity in Christ and what He stands for.
“Steady Love”, an emotional piano ballad, speaks about the quick passage of time that seems to quicken the older we become. As Ben concludes that we can’t outrun the clock; he reminds us though that we can instead find some ‘steady love’ (like a spouse or some friends or Jesus) to spend with so that we can feel happy and content. “Heroes”, an Owl City-like pop melody with introspection and reflection galore, depicts Ben lamenting about how he lost touch with the people he looked up to in his life, and inspires us to never place our value and our worth in the people we look up to (because they will always fail!). With Ben fervently crying out that ‘…I miss my old heroes, I had to give them all away, I miss my old heroes, yeah, yeah, God, I wish they could’ve stayed, ’cause it turns out that the hardest part of growing up’s not just getting old, it’s learning how the real world goes…’, we remember that people are fallible; and the trouble of putting our faith in our heroes is that it is shaken when they ultimately don’t live up to our expectations- hence we become bitter and twisted. And so, who do we put our trust, hope and faith in?
If you were to tell me even at the start of the year, that I’d love a song with Snoop Dogg in it, I’d have laughed in your face. But that’s exactly what I feel about “Sunday”, with Ben and Snoop combining for a pure pop song about Ben’s love for his wife. And as for a question I posed earlier about “Heroes”, about who do we put our faith in when our idols and role models fall? Well, that answer is given directly and plainly in the earnest and worshipful “Thank You”, a prayer to God where Ben unequivocally gives Him praise and acknowledges ‘…It’s been too long since we’ve sat down and talked this way, life is hard sometimes, I don’t know what to say, there are times when it just doesn’t make no sense, but You have been good to me, You have been good to me time and again, so thank You (Thank You), thank You (Thank You), thank You (Thank You), oh, for You have been good to me (You have been good), You have been good, for You have been good to me (You have been good), You are always good…’. With “Thank You” possibly ruffling some feathers and maybe rubbing unbelievers the wrong way; I firmly believe that “Thank You” is THE SONG to listen to for some inspiration and some much needed perspective; and even when we look outside, we can see God’s handiwork and His creation… and that should blow our minds, don’t you reckon? “Daughter”, the powerful, emotional and vulnerable track whereby Ben sings about his daughter, is another melody which gives us some perspective, with the piano prominent track bringing to the forefront the theme of gratitude, sacrifice and unconditional love. While the contemplative and pensive ballad “Hanging Out” (with saxophonist Kenny G) speaks about Ben’s active decision to remove himself from Hollywood, the fame, the glitz, the glamour and the attention, and about living a quiet life– a live God would be proud of.
“We Will Never Be This Young Again”, a pop dance/EDM track, is probably one of the most important songs on the album, as Ben powerfully and confidently encourages us to live life to the fullest and to appreciate each day as it comes, because ‘…I couldn’t tell you where this road will lead, if it winds or how it ends, but this is as alive as we will ever be ’cause we will never be this young again, so, here’s to livin’ while we’re alive, don’t slow down, don’t close your eyes, just raise your glass and breathe it in, ’cause we will never be this young again…’. Life is meant to be made for living and not just existing and this song firmly celebrates the fact that while we still have a heartbeat, we still have a purpose! “It Would Be You”, a powerful, sweet and adorable melody about the pureness of love, skilfully encapsulates Ben’s love for his wife, and is a catchy 80’s influenced pop melody that should get everyone up on their feet and dancing right away; while the acoustic guitar ballad “Cliches” with Taylor Goldsmith, beautifully and poignantly delivers to us the notion and concept of cliches- that they’re called cliches for a reason, with Ben listing all of the wonderful cliches in his life about him and his wife and their strong and firm relationship. The Joy Of Music then ends with the celebratory and joyous pop tune “Joy”, with Ben saying his ‘thank you’ liner notes within the song for the last two minutes of the track! It’s a song that is the perfect way to end a near-flawless album, and is also a happy-go-lucky song of gratitude and thanks, appreciating the fans and the people involved in the project, and how he made an album he’s extremely proud of.
And that, my friends, is “The Joy of Music”
Thanks so much for listening
I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed making it
Which was a lot
There’s a list of people I’d like to thank coming up
If you can stick around for that, stick around
If you’ve got somewhere to be, no sweat
Just know that I really appreciate you tuning in
And making this album a small part of your life
I’d like to thank John Fields for being my partner in crime
For his patience as I changed things a decibel at a time again and again
Only to go back to what we had originally
Thanks John, you’re the best
To my wife Hillary, for your support as I came out here almost every day for a year and a half to chase down this record
So glad I get to do life with you, and you’re the best
To my daughter Jane, for making me excited to wake up every morning to see what you’re gonna say and do
To my twins, Roy and Robert, for being just an absolute handful, but for being pretty sweet most of the time
I wanna thank Snoop Dogg, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say, for rapping on “Sunday,” and for being cool about it when I edited out your reference to National Blunt Day
Thanks to Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes for making my hipster musician friends think I’m just a little bit cooler than I am
To Kenny G for cred with my dad, and to Dave Koz for ripping what is potentially the best saxophone solo I’ve ever heard in my life on “Supernatural.”
Thanks to all the other writers, players, just collaborators in general who lended your talents to the record
It is better because of it, and I am grateful to work with you
Well, guys, we did it
Until I see you next time, this is Ben Rector, signing off
Telling you to please, be joyful
This is an odd analogy, but there’s this place in LA called The Honor Bar and they have this chicken sandwich that is the best sandwich I’ve ever had. Every time I eat it, I’m just like, ‘What a treat that was. I was entertained just by how good it was and it made my day better.’ I think my hope is that my music will feel like that chicken sandwich to people—like a little treat that made them feel good and made their day a little bit brighter. I wasn’t necessarily aiming to make people feel thankful for their lives. I would love that, but at the end of the day, anything that people find really enjoyable—whatever that is for you—I just hope my music can be like a small version of that in people’s lives.
When I was making this record, I was operating from a place of wanting to find joy in the process. I wanted to do things that sounded fun, just because they sounded fun. I wasn’t constructing songs with the hope of them being a feature or anything. I was just making the art that I wanted to make and then on a couple of songs, I said, ‘Dude, it would be so fun if we got Snoop Dogg to be on the song.’ For me, the worst thing that can happen is that Snoop says, ‘No, I don’t want to do that,’ which is totally understandable. The best thing that could happen is that I’m on a song with Snoop Dogg.
I didn’t want to play it safe anymore. I didn’t want to show the same tricks that I’ve done before a bunch of times just because I know I won’t fail. I don’t want to be afraid of failing anymore because this is my one wild and precious life. I don’t want to look up when I’m 60 and be like, ‘Man, I was so scared the whole time that I was gonna look silly, or that it wasn’t gonna go very well.’ I just want to do cool stuff that’s fun for me and fun for other people.
There truly isn’t anything that I can say further about Ben Rector’s The Joy Of Music. An album that is flawless and extremely unique; there will never be another album like this, this year and the next few years as well! Ben is an artist and a songwriter and an entertainer and a storyteller; and we are blessed to have him showcase his talents. An album that will be on repeat for me for years and years to come (and really, now is the time where I need to go back and listen to Ben’s previous albums!); you should all listen to this album from start to finish, and just soak it in. And… that’s all. Listen and be amazed! What do you think of this once-in-a-lifetime project?
Instead of having specific numerical goals, like selling this many tickets or making this much money, my real hope is that I enjoy the process of this record cycle and the tour. I’ve never really approached it like that before, and I realized that’s honestly probably the only thing that I can control. I can’t really control how many people come to a show, if I win an award, or chart positions. I’m going to do everything I can to give the record and tour the best shot to do well, but when I live mainly in that place of putting my self-worth in things I can’t control, I don’t end up that happy about it.
3 songs to listen to: Living My Best Life, Thank You, We Will Never Be This Young Again
RIYL: Mat Kearney, Needtobreathe, Ben Platt, Andy Grammar, Johnnyswim, Dave Barnes, Jason Mraz