Ben Rector is giving us something brand new again.
In just one scroll through the Billboard Hot 100 songs, viewers find an abundance of strikingly depressing songs (“I Hate U,” “Cold Heart,” “Good 4 U”). They’re popular and trending, but this isn’t the music I prefer to dance to in the car.
It’s against this backdrop that Ben Rector has dropped his latest album, The Joy of Music on March 11, and in so doing, Rector has gifted us with something somewhat lacking in the modern music industry: hope.
The Joy of Music titles a restorative narrative. In this story, Rector reminds listeners that music is joyful, creative, optimistic, and exciting. Not every album needs a breakup song, in other words. Aiming for something different, Rector strings joy and hope throughout the entire work of art.
Rector spent the past 15 years touring and releasing music. But like all artists, Covid-19 brought his touring to a halt, and Rector found himself home with no musical agenda.
“For the first time, I was able to dive into the work because I loved it and there were no deadlines,” Rector told Forbes. “No one knew when we’d be back. The album was about me rediscovering my love for music because I think that anytime that something is a job it can be hard to enjoy it the same way you did when it was a hobby.”
As Rector explained to Forbes, it was the first time since college that he was able to write without worrying about outside expectations. And the result is a beautiful ode to finding meaning and purpose despite hardships.
Lyrics of hope
Rector invited many friends along his joyful journey, including Snoop Dogg, Kenny G, Dave Koz, Taylor Goldsmith, and the One Voice Children’s Choir, who are all featured on the album.
His first song, “Dream On,” is an anthem to those who have forgotten how to dream:
“Even when you’re afraid all your dreams may be gone / Just dream on . . . When the world says you’re crazy / Just tell them they’re wrong and dream on.”
Rector said he wanted “Dream On” to sound like a kid’s song for adults, teaching us to become childlike and pursue our wildest dreams. His simple, sweet piano melodies sing like a lullaby.
In the song “Supernatural,” Rector reconnects with a sense of deeper meaning in life.
“It can be hard to believe in miracles / Hard to trust in things that are a mystery / To forget that there is magic in the world / That there is more than just what we can touch and see / Now for the very first time I believe I can fly / Head to toe I’m electrified / I can feel it / I believe it / I am seeing / Something supernatural / Every time I look in your eyes / I understand that God is alive.”
We learn of Rector’s beautiful relationship with his daughter in his tribute to her, “Daughter”—where we learn that this supernatural feeling isn’t actually superficial.
The final track, “Joy” is a culmination of what he learned during the pandemic. He sings, “There for a minute, I was feeling real rough / Until I saw that what I had was enough.”
Rector closes this song and the album by thanking all of the people that helped—his family, his friends, and his guest artists. He’s grateful for the help he’s received, but it isn’t enough for him to just feel grateful. He’s going to show us.
One gets the distinct sense that Rector found joy in his life again—that he grew to recognize that all he needs is right in front of him. And he invites the listener to follow suit.
While much of pop music sings of seeking joy in temporary things and indulging in wants, Rector’s message is simple and more enduring: seek joy and choose hope.
Despite the hardships and isolation that COVID-19 brought the world, Rector found purpose in the pandemic. Rector said he’s excited to share what he discovered with listeners in hopes that they, too, find their joy again.
“I’m thankful that I get to do music as a job,” he says. “That’s such a rare thing. At the end of the day, I hope that my art encourages people or makes them feel a little bit better than they did before they listened to it.”