Music has always been at the center of Brandon Ratcliff’s life. From the day he was born, and even before, he was on stages, on tour buses, and in writing rooms across America, watching his family sing the music they love as the celebrated Bluegrass band, The Cox Family.
Born in Cotton Valley, LA (population 962), Brandon 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.
“I have great memories of growing up and music being everywhere,” Brandon says. “We always felt that we could express ourselves creatively. Early on, I wanted to differentiate myself from my family but as I've gotten older, I've come to respect my parents for the art and the craft of what they did.”
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 upcoming album, Tale of Two Towns, Brandon 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, holding space for the songs Brandon will write about the next chapter in his journey.
With Volume 2 still to be penned, the stories that fill those songs will be written as Brandon interacts with fans, family and friends, and shares the music on Tale of Two Towns over the course of the next year.
“Writing it with fans, that's the part that's really enticing to me,” he says. “Letting the fans in on where I am now, how I got to this place in my life. It's a bit of an unended sentence and I hope to flush out some of the places I think we're heading with the help from the people.”
Tale of Two Towns Vol. 1 takes listeners on a journey that explores the consequences of staying or leaving the town you were born in. On the title track Brandon sings “did my parents settle when they settled down? Are you more brave for leaving or sticking around?” It’s a sentiment Brandon himself has struggled with, in choosing to leave his hometown behind and move to Nashville after graduating high school.
After deciding to leave Cotton Valley for Nashville, Brandon’s talents quickly attracted the music business machine in town. He was offered a publishing deal at the age of 20 but decided to turn it down to develop his sound. While paying his dues on Music Row, he found trusted co-writing partners and began to hone his craft. Some of his early collaborators include the late busbee, Josh Jenkins, Pete Good and AJ Babcock.
In 2018 Brandon was signed to Monument Records, and in 2019 burst onto the scene with his debut single, “Rules Of Breaking Up,” accumulating more than 50 million streams. 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.
But 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.
Greatly influenced by the music of the Louisiana delta, and the bluegrass engrained in his blood, the first sound you hear on the album is a recording of a 1920s advertisement from Cotton Valley after a natural disaster struck the town. From there, Brandon sings of losing touch with old friends on “Grow Apart,” finding love on “Someone Who Believes In You,” and the many disappointments one faces in chasing their dreams on “Drove Me Country.” The latter is his favorite song on the project to listen to, and one he describes as “Bill Withers meets James Taylor meets Glen Campbell.”
Brandon describes “Where I’m Coming From” to having a metaphorical conversation with the ghost of his late grandfather. “I'll never tell you not to do the things you love but what you're chasing now won't always be enough,” he sings.
“My grandpa, he started the family band,” Brandon explains. “He was the patriarch of our family. The reason we’re all involved in music is because of him.”
While his grandfather traveled the country for music, he always had one foot in Cotton Valley. Brandon, meanwhile, left as soon as he graduated high school. It’s these two life choices the singer questions within the coming of age album.
“They were smalltown people forever and there's something to be valued about that,” he says of his family. “I uprooted myself and went out into the world and have a very adventurous life. Every time I sing that song, I'm singing it to myself in some sense because it's me imagining him saying these things. I’m also wrestling with the hypothetical of both lives, because I think there's pros and cons to each.”
Ending the record with “Family Business,” Brandon draws the journey to a climactic grand finale singing, “Blame it on the genes, blame it on the dream, or a little bit of both, but thank God I ended up in the family business.” No matter what happens in the months and years to come, Brandon is determined, and destined, to continue building the family business.