On the cover of his latest album Magic, Nashville based singer-songwriter Ben Rector defies gravity with a Juno keyboard in tow. What kind of keyboard? A heavy one. It’s a fitting portrait of the man currently hauling his piano around the country, performing some musical heavy lifting in support of the release.
“We were lucky to catch that. There’s a lot of pictures of me much closer to the ground,” Rector said in a recent phone interview. He called from his parents’ kitchen table in his Tulsa, Oklahoma childhood home while on a brief break from the road.
He began piano lessons as a child, but abandoned it to noodle around on the guitar. In high school, he took guitar a little more seriously, then began writing songs when he was 16. By the end of high school, he resumed playing piano.
“I wasn’t, like, classically trained or anything. I just kind of picked it up and really enjoyed it,” said Rector.
Rector said that growing up he liked The Beatles, James Taylor, and the ‘60s and ‘70s singer-songwriter canon. His newest album Magic, a celebratory collection of songs, explores sentimentality with perspective. Opening track “Extraordinary Magic” tenderly caresses a cinematic dream lined with glimpses of a wondrous love. “Old Friends” reminisces about an era of Rector’s, well, old friends.
“I wasn’t intentionally like ‘I’m going to make a nostalgic record.’ It wasn’t really like that. Those were just kind of the themes that were coming out when I was writing and I think it was probably just because it was the first time I’d had a second to catch my breath,” said Rector.
Now in its Texas homestretch, Rector will kick off the tour’s final three shows in Houston Thursday night. Of all the Texas markets, he claims to have played this one the least, confessing he isn’t sure exactly when he played here last. Still, he’s excited to return.
“Texas has historically been a really fun place for me to play. People are usually really kind and come out to the shows and so it feels like a fitting way to end it,” Rector said.
At every performance, Rector routinely pauses the show for a moment of crowd participation. He thanks the crowd for attending his show then, on cue, audience members throw their arms into the air and cheer at piercing decibel levels. Rector’s Instagram feed documents the tradition which has evolved since it first began.
“I don’t remember exactly when that started but I just remember I used to just take pictures, and as the venues started getting bigger we just couldn’t fit that much of the crowd into a picture, so we started doing videos,” Rector said.
Thursday's set list is comprised of songs both old and new. Crowd favorites include “Men That Drive Me Places,” “When a Heart Breaks,” “Forever Like That,” and his now signature hit “Brand New,” which you may have heard in trailers for Moana, The Edge of Seventeen, or across television since its 2016 release.
“When I sat down to write that I wasn’t thinking like ‘I’m going to try to write a song that will be used in TV and film.’ I think the reason it was used was because it felt like an emotional thing and I think it’s probably most important just to chase making, like, good art and that stuff just falls into place.”
Ben Rector, with The Band CAMINO, is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Thursday, November 15 at Revention Music Center, 520 Texas. For information, visit livenation.com. Tickets start at $30, plus fees.