"Nothing cuts to the core like a simple song," says Chris Kasper. More than a dozen years into his acclaimed career, the singer/songwriter gets back to the bluesy basics with his fifth album, O, the Fool.
Inspired by Delta blues, folk music, and the string arrangements of Hollywood film scores, O, the Fool was recorded on both ends of an 800-mile move that took Kasper from Philadelphia to Nashville. He'd already spent much of his adulthood on the road, traveling from city to city, building his fanbase one show at a time. Meanwhile, back at home, his friends were putting down roots and starting families of their own. Kasper couldn't help but question his own choices, and it's that swirl of contrasting feelings — uncertainty, determination, and wanderlust — that fuels O, the Fool.
"It's about traveling," he says of the 13-song, self-produced album, "and then second-guessing your travels once you've arrived at your destination. It's about coming to terms with the thing that makes you think, 'Ok, maybe this isn't the right place for me, but I am here, so I should make it work. This is where life has brought me.'"
The album's title was born during a coffeeshop meeting with a friend, who spilled a pack of tarot cards across the table. The first card was the Fool: a traveller with a bag slung over his shoulder, headed toward some unknown destination. The illustration reminder Kasper of himself. Weeks later, another friend found the same card and brought it to Kasper, saying the two troubadours resembled one another. Kasper agreed. "The card embodies that feeling of wandering," he explains. "It reminded me of the journey that music takes you on, and you can't predict where it's gonna take you."
From a songwriting perspective, O, the Fool is a simple, straightforward album. The chord progressions are basic, influenced by the no-frills approach of blues musicians and early 20th century folksingers. The arrangements, on the other hand, are downright lush, with Kasper taking inspiration from the epic, sweeping scores of old western movies. He engineered the string parts himself, working with multi-instrumentalist Kylie Ryan — who contributions to the album include viola, cello, and violin — to create orchestral swells. Lush and beautiful, the songs on O, the Fool show Kasper's capabilities not only as a songwriter and evocative vocalist, but as a producer, too.
"This is a realization album," says the songwriter, whose past travels have included opening gigs with the Wood Brothers, Amos Lee, and G Love. "It's almost like a soundtrack — a blues album meets a western movie. When your songs are simple and direct, you can go nuts with the presentation. You can strip away the fat from your writing, but still turn the entire arrangement into something bigger. That way, the punches hit harder."
Come to think of it, that doesn't so foolish, after all.
O' The Fool is preceded by Bagabones (2013) The First Hundred Years are the Hardest (2011), Chasing Another Sundown (2009), and FlyingBoy (2006).