Following a prolific year-long stretch of writing songs, recording his original music and playing shows around the South, Ricketts will return to Corinth for a hometown show on Saturday, June 17.
The show comes in the midst of Ricketts’ busiest year so far.
“It’s been busier and busier with the shows. This year by the end of June it will be a little over 50 shows,” he said. “And I’m still working for the university in Oxford and going to school. Any off-time I spend either recording or playing or working on music with other people.”
This year has also seen the writing, recording and release of Ricketts’ 10th self-produced album, “Here, Asleep.” Released in March, the album tackles a number of fundamental themes, including faith, family, politics and the human condition. It features Ricketts on a dizzying array of instruments, from acoustic and electric guitars to trombones, maracas and sleigh bells, and includes the electronic computer-based sampling that has been essential to much of Ricketts’ live and studio work.
The past year has also been a time of evolution for Ricketts’ live show.
In 2016 Ricketts did two tours alone and one tour with singer-songwriter Drew Danburry, who was a big inspiration for Ricketts growing up. Ricketts said he found inspiration in Danburry’s minimalist approach to playing live on the tour.
“Every night he wouldn’t use a PA, he’d use an acoustic and sit on the floor and I’d play percussion for him on whatever we’d find that I could play. Sometime it was something just around the house in these house shows we were playing,” Ricketts explained. “His method of playing live stuck with me. I wanted to bring that kind of on-the-fly humanity to it. He was always changing his setlist, changing something up in a song.”
Beginning in March, Ricketts has incorporated the more stripped-down aesthetic into his own live shows.
“I started doing the more minimal stuff, toured with it in March, which was great. Then I scaled back even more and was doing shows with just guitar and vocals,” he said. “This tour now has kind of settled in-between. I’m not using tracks anymore, but I’m using a computer to do things I was doing before with tapes and samples. It’s still very live and very improv-heavy. I think I‘ve found the happy medium between using a bunch of things and using nothing at all.”
The show coming up in Corinth will feature a stripped-down acoustic set, Ricketts said, with a variety of music from his earliest styles to his current work.
“It’s going to be an acoustic show, very minimal, no bells and whistles,” he explained. “In a show like that I can go a little deeper in the discography. I’ll do a couple of covers and stuff from when I was a teenager. I play a little bit of everything in shows like that.”
For these acoustics shows, Ricketts plays without a set list, he said, picking songs from his repertoire based on what feels right in that particular situation. At times this leads him to play older songs; other times the improvised sets end up weighed more in the direction of his newer material.
“It really depends on how the room is, how people feel,” he said. “If it’s a good crowd and a fun crowd, shows like that always end up being a sing-along and I’ll end up playing games with the audience and things like that.”
Ricketts’ life as a musician began in the sixth grade, when he started learning guitar after being inspired by the Johnny Cash bio-pic “Walk the Line.” Since then he has soaked up a staggering range of influences, stretching from popular composer George Gershwin to Beach Boys leader and studio maestro Brian Wilson, to the modern electronic sounds of Animal Collective, Atlas Sound and Stereolab.
A 2012 graduate of Alcorn Central High School, Ricketts is the son of Bill and Sandi Ricketts. He grew up in the Glen and Wenasoga communities of Alcorn County. In addition to his musical endeavors, Ricketts is pursuing a degree in history at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.
The upcoming show will be held on June 17 at Vicari Italian Grill, located at 514 Cruise Street in downtown Corinth, beginning at 8 p.m.
Check out the music of Ben Ricketts – including the new album “Here, Asleep” – at benricketts.bandcamp.com, Spotify or iTunes.
(Former Daily Corinthian staff writer Bobby J. Smith is now a freelance writer. He lives in the Osborne Creek community in Prentiss County, Miss.)