Singer-songwriter Brandon Ratcliff has fond memories of going to school and spending time in quaint Minden, Louisiana, a small town in Webster Parish that’s just a short drive from where his family lived in more rural Cotton Valley. He hadn’t given much thought to what it meant to move on until he relocated to Nashville and had a lengthy gap where he didn’t make it back home. When he finally did return for the holidays, he was stunned to see how different things had become.
“I remember it being the first distinct time I noticed these huge changes in my town,” says Ratcliff, calling on the cross-town drive from a studio to his home in Nashville. “When you’re in that small town, it feels like your whole world. I’m sure the town was always changing, but when you’re there you don’t feel it as much.”
Ratcliff describes that experience in his latest single “Slow Down Hometown,” an acoustic-guitar-driven lament where he embodies the native son who realizes the place didn’t shut down for good after he left. “It’s a real hard lesson to learn/When the prodigal son returns/And there ain’t no parade,” he sings. Ratcliff co-wrote the song with Pete Good, A.J. Babcock, and Grammy winner Shane McAnally, addressing the town as if he were speaking to an ex-partner.
“You see your town move on the same way you would an old high school flame or somebody you really cared about,” says Ratcliff, who gives a live performance of the song with his bandmates in a new video. “Sometimes that’s bittersweet. Because I’m not coming back. I moved on and I’m chasing my dream, I’m doing my thing.”
The son of Suzanne Cox from country-bluegrass ensemble the Cox Family, Ratcliff grew up around music — “Every family gathering, there was always instruments being pulled out,” he says — and absorbed the sounds of Don Williams and Stevie Wonder his mother played at home or in the car. Family friend Alison Krauss, who produced the Cox Family’s excellent 2015 album Gone Like the Cotton, also adds her clear harmonies with Ratcliff’s more soulful vocal attack on “Slow Down Hometown.”
“Just to see her up close and the genius that she is as an artist and a musician, you just hope some of that knowledge falls off on you when you’re in the room,” says Ratcliff of working with Krauss.
In addition to “Slow Down Hometown,” Ratcliff has released the tracks “Rules of Breaking Up” and “Number in My Phone,” which show off a fluency in 21st century pop songcraft. Ratcliff, who is working on his debut album, promises that his next recordings will be “very versatile,” but he’ll be the thing that binds it all together.
“There’s a linear-ness to it, because of how consistent my writing camp is,” he says. “It still sounds like the same guy.”