When Ellis Paul shares his latest album, “The Storyteller’s Suitcase,” with listeners at The Front Porch on Friday evening, he will be getting back to basics in many respects.
“In the past few years, I always felt like I was writing for a commercial enterprise other than myself,” Paul said. “I just got back to writing for myself. It’s kind of a musical autobiography — a travelogue of a life in music.”
“Innocence and the Afterlife,” for instance, looks back at an unforgettable conversation he had with his young daughter after a treasured grandfather’s death. “Kiss Me ’Cause I’m Gone” was inspired by the feelings of leaving home for the first time. Other memories springing to live across the collection include the loss of a family farmhouse in a 1979 fire.
“The Battle for Charlottesville” grew out of the frustrating experience of watching audiences on the road grow tense after finding out where Paul has lived for the past 14 years. The violence of Aug. 12, 2017, created assumptions about the city that its artists have had to face in front of audiences in the glare of spotlights and public opinions. Paul felt the need to speak up for “one of the coolest places in the country” in the wake of widespread misunderstandings and criticism.
“I felt really impacted by it because it really impacted the brand,” he said. “I feel like I’m kind of an ambassador for Charlottesville.”
The resulting songs reflect a more comprehensive response to events and emotions in his world than he might have had in his 20s and 30s. Fatherhood, family, life experience and the rhythms of performing all shaped the songs and lent both intimacy and a bolder voice.
“Then I just worked on it and made it happen,” Paul said. “I have bigger subject matter now. I don’t know if that’s maturity, but the skill set can handle the more cumbersome topics now.
“It might be the best collection I’ve ever put out, after 20 albums.”
Eighteen albums for adult listeners and two created for children have given Paul opportunities to discuss all kinds of topics.
“The Storyteller’s Suitcase,” he said, “is definitely a record for grownups. The nuances are a little too much for kids.”
On children’s records, “it’s like painting with a house-sized paintbrush and primary colors,” he said. “When you’re writing for adults, you need a lot of tiny brushes — and a lot of colors.”
The new album also gave the accomplished songwriter the chance to serve as producer for the first time.
Paul started his new tour in support of “The Storyteller’s Suitcase” on May 26 at Texas’ Kerrville Folk Festival. In addition to performing his first Charlottesville show in several years, and his first-ever show at The Front Porch, he will be touring in Ireland for the first time in August.
Preparing the new songs for tour shows, where he won’t have some of the sonic luxuries of studio work, requires a stimulating brand of creative thinking. “Half of the songs I hadn’t played [for audiences] at all,” he said.
“On the road, it’s just you and your guitar, so how do you suggest all these other instruments?” Paul said. “It makes it fresh for me.
“It’s a challenge. It makes me a better guitar player and a better arranger. I know it’s going to make me a better musician.”
As he looks forward to Friday’s hometown show, he’s focusing on the new music.
“It’s still a baby,” Paul said of the new album, which was released May 31. “Once it’s a toddler, I can start thinking about the next album.”