Ben Rector may not be a “hype person” — a point he has reiterated in interviews and on social media — but he’s been proud to tout “The Joy of Music” as the album he’s wanted to make for more than a decade.
Though Rector is known to be self-effacing, such proclamations would set the bar high for any artist. Fortunately, “The Joy of Music” (the Nashville singer-songwriter’s eighth studio album, which hit streaming platforms last week) is his most vibrant, emotionally robust work yet.
Like 2015’s “Brand New” and 2018’s “Magic,” the 13-track set is full of wistful, piano-pop melodies that touch on family, fame and friendship. This time around, the results are more sonically diverse than ever, with featured assists from Dave Koz, Kenny G and Snoop Dogg. Yes, that Snoop Dogg.
Songs like “Steady Love” and “Clichés” reflect the domestic bliss Rector has found with his wife, Hillary, 4-year-old daughter Jane — who, incidentally, makes a surprise appearance on the album — and sons Roy and Robert, both 1.
But time and fatherhood haven’t diminished Rector’s willingness to delve beyond the confines of his previous work. “Supernatural” is a standout track that could very well be the grooviest entry in his catalog, juxtaposing Koz’s saxophone solo with a 1980s synth-pop beat. His mischievous wit is here, too, most notably on the percolating “Sunday,” where he swaps verses with Snoop Dogg.
Rector’s desire to get outside his comfort zone extended beyond the recording studio. To accompany “The Joy of Music,” he and director Ben Kadie wove six of the new songs into a playful short film that may as well be titled “Rector in Wonderland.” After a fruitless night at the piano, Rector is transported into a dream world, where he masters some Broadway-style dance moves — in his socks, no less — and joins a band of superheroes for an impromptu jam session.
His co-star in the film is a custom-designed red Muppet monster created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop that audiences can expect to see on his tour, which kicks off May 5 in Madison, Wisconsin, before moving on to Boston, New York and other cities.
Watch “Living My Best Life” from “The Joy of Music” short film below.
At 35, Rector may not be a household name or radio fixture. His folk-pop albums and heartfelt, relatable lyrics, however, have endeared him to a massive fan base, thus guaranteeing him a spot on streaming playlists and at wedding receptions for years to come.
Hollywood has caught on to Rector’s talents, too. Last month, the Screen Actors Guild chose “Sailboat,” his collaboration with musician Cody Fry, as the soundtrack for the “in memoriam” segment of the 2022 SAG Awards. In 2021, he appeared as a mentor on “American Idol,” duetting with contestants Wyatt Pike and Graham DeFranco.
In spite of such triumphs, Rector acknowledged having moments of self-doubt with regard to his artistry, which he hopes to relinquish — or, at the very least, reassess — with “The Joy of Music” and beyond.
That focus has paid off, and there’s no question “The Joy of Music” represents a major step up for Rector as a musician. “It’s the best that it has been in a long time,” he croons on “Living My Best Life,” the album’s gospel-tinged centerpiece. That sentiment applies to “The Joy of Music” in its entirety, too.