Ben Rice Trio performs this weekend at Crash Music
FARMINGTON — On the various occasions in the past when he has gone into the studio to record to a new disc, blues guitarist Ben Rice has had a very clear idea of what he hoped to accomplish.
"I'm always trying to put my original material first," said Rice, a Portland, Oregon-area native who performs this weekend at Crash Music at the Aztec Theater. "When I go into the studio, I'm always highlighting the songs I'm writing and the songs I'm arranging."
But when Rice began planning the first live recording of his career a couple of years ago, he understood his plan needed to be different.
"With the live recording, it was like, well, this is the show. What I wanted was the energy of the live show," he said today by phone from a stop on the road somewhere in Arizona.
That meant much less of an emphasis on breaking new material and much more of a focus on providing the listener with an authentic experience in regard to how it feels to watch Rice take the stage and the music he feels comfortable playing in that setting. The result, 2016's "Live at the Purple Fox Loft," more than met his expectations in terms of providing a snapshot of where his band was at that point in time.
"I felt like at that moment it was the best the band had ever sounded," he said.
"Live at the Purple Fox Loft" features a greater proportion of covers than any of his studio albums, but Rice said he wanted the recording to serve as a tribute to, and an indication of, the people who have influenced him creatively. He also chose a smaller venue than he normally plays, a winery tasting room in his home town of Newberg, because he liked the sense of intimacy and familiarity it provided. Rice believes that decision paid off through a sense of warmth that permeates the recording.
But none of that means the live disc is a simple retread. The album's highlight is a performance of Rice's tune "Key to the Highway," a cornerstone of his catalog that does not appear on any of his previous releases.
"I had tried to record it in the studio before, but it never came out the way I wanted it to," he said. "I finally realized it would have to be a live recording if it was ever going to come out the way I wanted it to. I wanted to try to capitalize on that emotion and expression."
Rice said he meddled very little with the tracks on the disc, even leaving them in the order they were performed that night. He intentionally scheduled "Key to the Highway" to be performed in the middle of the set list so the band would be in a groove by the time it launched into the song.
He hopes that discerning listeners can hear the subtle differences in dynamics that unfold with his band over the course of a performance.
"We didn't really reorganize anything — it even has the onstage banter," he said. "The first three tunes are super tight and just like we rehearsed them, then the wine starts kicking in and the room starts to relax."
With that project under his belt, Rice already is knee deep in two more. He's planning on releasing two studio recordings later this year, one with his band and a largely acoustic solo project that features a handful of special guests.
Rice has a good deal invested in both projects in terms of time, money and hopes. Now in his late twenties, he understands that his window for finding a larger audience for his music will probably be at its widest in the next couple of years. He envisions the two albums as being his most mature work yet.
But he insisted he's not compromising his standards to attract new listeners. If anything, Rice said, he believes he's become more discerning and is now for the first time writing songs with parts to accommodate the distinct skills of the musicians he enjoys working with.
"There's a deeper meaning to it," he said of his approach with the new recordings. "It's more than, 'I have to get a new CD out.' … I want these to be something I can be proud of."
The Shawn Arrington Band opens Saturday's show. Rice also will be leading a slide guitar workshop at 1 p.m. Sunday at the theater.
If you go
What: Ben Rice Band in concert
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Crash Music at the Aztec Theater, 104 N. Main Ave. in Aztec
Tickets: $15 in advance and $18 the day of the show at crashmusicaztec.com or 505-427-6748.
For more information: Visit benricelive.com