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Brandon Ratcliff – ‘Tale of Two Towns’ review

Born in Cotton Valley, LA (population 962), Brandon Ratcliff saw first-hand how universal the stories born in small towns are. The son of Suzanne Cox, one third of the family band, Brandon watched as his mother and her siblings won Grammy Awards telling those stories to the world. 

His family often shared stories of heartbreak and loss, faith and love, guilt and pride. They are stories Brandon has lived, and feelings he knows too well. On his new album ‘Tale of Two Towns’ Ratcliff, who is also celebrating becoming a father this week as well, explores each of these themes in a project that is split into two volumes. Volume 1 is a complete body of work exploring the life-altering decision of whether to leave home or stay, while Volume 2 is filled with instrumental interludes and holding spaces for the songs Brandon will write about in the next chapter of his journey. 

In 2018 Brandon signed to Monument Records, and in 2019 he burst onto the scene with his debut single ‘Rules Of Breaking Up’. After hitting the road with Kelsea Ballerini and Brett Young, and opening dates for Keith Urban, Ratcliff appeared on the Spotify Viral Chart, was selected as a Pandora Ones to Watch artist and topped Rolling Stone’s all-genre Breakthrough Artists chart. 

When 2020 hit and the world shut down, Brandon’s career screeched to a halt. Finding himself at a crossroads with his music, and his life, he went back to the hometown he was so eager to leave. While there he wrote like crazy, about all the stories he had never written before. Now, after two years away, he is emerging with a brand-new sound, wholly true to who he is. 

One thing that is apparent, after just a single listen to ‘Tale of Two Towns’, is that there is a depth, an intelligence and a wisdom to Ratcliff’s craft that is unusual in an artist so young. Ratcliff is also one of the new breed of artists that utilise the sounds, styles and genre conventions of Country music whilst also bringing in influences from other genres and artists too. The centre-point of this album is its title track. ‘Tale of Two Towns’ is a beautiful, acoustic-driven number that provides an intimate yet conflicted look at growing up in a small town. “Thank God I grew up there, thank God I got out,’ is the sentiment of the song as Ratcliff ponders whether his parents settled and whether the local muddy water is quicksand. It’s a raw, honest treatise that will be relatable to people the whole world over.

That kind of authentic wisdom can also be found on tracks like ‘Best Thing That Never Happened’ and ‘Drove Me Country’. The former is a Pop/Folk song about the vagaries of life and the unpredictability of the things that happen to us. Part Simon & Garfunkel, part Ed Sheeran and a sprinkle of Mraz, this song will have you humming its melody for hours. The time change towards the end provides a real classy finish that only augments Ratcliff’s soulful vocals. ‘Drove Me Country;, meanwhile, finds Ratcliff going home, ‘It’s time to turn this six lanes into one,’ he sings on a delightful, wistful song full of dreamy Western influences.

Elsewhere on ‘Tale of Two Towns’ Ratcliff shows us some of his wider influences. ‘Grow Apart’ comes across as a kind of Ryan Adams meets John Mayer-esque song that introspectively explores ageing in a slick, meaningful way. ‘Always Moving On’ has a cracking Pop melody and a snappy cadence to the lyrics that echoes Jason Mraz again and that influence is taken even further on ‘Really Ready’ which is driven forward by a funky guitar line in the first section of the song and a big Gospel choir in the latter section. ‘Sometimes I feel like a kid in grown ups clothes,’ sings this new father who writes with a wisdom that belies his age and experience.

Outlier song, ‘Someone Who Believes in You’ brings the funk, Bee Gees style as Ratcliff sings about finding strength in the people around you on top of a terrific ‘wacca-wacca’ Nile Rodgers-esque guitar whilst ‘Sad Songs’, a meta exploration of how a sad song is the perfect closer to any album, closes down the album in an intimate and wistful way. ‘Sometimes you hold things closer once you know it’s over,’ Ratcliff sings, over some bluesy guitar and delightful piano flourishes. Throw in the autobiographical and very funky ‘Family Business’ and the album is done.

Volume two sees Ratcliff exploring some embryonic melodies, riffs and acoustic little noodles that might well form the genesis of his next batch of songs but it is the heft, weight and wisdom of the completed songs on ‘Tale of Two Towns’ that make this the first stand-out release of 2023. If you like some meaning to your music, if you want a little soul behind the melodies and a bit of wisdom behind the lyrics then ‘Tale of Two Towns’ will resonate with you in exactly the right way. Born in the adversity of the pandemic, ‘Tale of Two Towns’ is a delightful mix of Country, Pop, Soul and Folk that defies pigeonholing and pushes at the boundaries of modern classification. Underpinning it all is Ratcliff’s soulful voice and his willingness to explore difficult relationships in an attempt to find peace and growth. This is his debut album! A tumultuous mix of meaning and melody, which is the holy grail that all songwriters strive for.

Brandon Ratcliff
Credit: Monument Records

Tracklist: 1. Tale of Two Towns 2. Always Moving On 3. Best Thing That Never Happened 4. Grow Together, Grow Apart 5. Where I’m Coming From 6. Really Ready 7. Someone Who Believes in You 8. Drove Me Country 9. Sad Song 10 through 17 Acoustic ideas 18. Family Business Record Label: Monument Records Release Date: 6th January Buy ‘Tale of Two Towns’ now

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Born in Cotton Valley, LA (population 962), Brandon Ratcliff saw first-hand how universal the stories born in small towns are. The son of Suzanne Cox, one third of the family band, Brandon watched as his mother and her siblings won Grammy Awards telling those...Brandon Ratcliff - 'Tale of Two Towns' review