If The Scenic Route brings to mind a leisurely drive through the mountains or a road trip out of town, that's the point.
The aptly titled fourth effort from Asheville's symphonic-folk outfit The Galen Kipar Project is loaded with images of mountains, rivers, forests and streams, and backed by lush arrangements, fluid vocals and Appalachian instrumentation that bring to life what is essentially a musical portrait of Western North Carolina.
And that, says Kipar, is no accident. The album's title is not only a literal reference to the years the band has spent on the road, but also a reflection on the way they've approached their career.
"We feel like we've taken the scenic route as a band," he explains. "We've been playing for a while, and we're still trucking along. And Western North Carolina is such a beautiful area. We couldn't ask for a better place to drive around and play music, where 75 percent of your job is driving. It definitely reflects on this area."
What was less intentional, he admits with a laugh, is the album's underlying theme of water and currents. Nearly every track on The Scenic Route mentions, whether in passing or in the song title itself, to some form of water. But Kipar insists that the repeated imagery was pure coincidence, or at least "subconscious regurgitation."
"It kind of was by accident," Kipar says in a way that suggests he expected this to come up. "I really didn't recognize it at first, and then someone said, 'Hey, there's a lot of references to water on this album.' Then it became apparent. But for me personally, I am a water person. I've spent a lot of time near and on the water and I love it. There is a lot of inspiration that comes from water and currents and just being in that environment.
"I tried to come up with an album title that captured the parallels between music and the currents that you might find in water, or in moving water. But I didn't nail it on the head. They always come after the fact."
Nevertheless, the eight-song offering is, from start to finish, relaxed, easy, accessible and relatable, yet layered and dense at the same time. Kipar's vocal delivery is bouncy but gentle, and his harmonica provides a down-home grittiness that balances the atmosphere of strings and flute, which is really the key to Kipar's appeal. Somehow, he manages to convey the simplicity of folk through the complexities of jazz and classical arrangements, without losing sight of the message.
For his part, Kipar offers a simpler explanation.
"Often it starts out as a whistle, honestly," he says. "Once you find that melody, those few couple of notes that really define the song, you can start to develop the other parts based on that original melody. Really, all I'm trying to do is develop that original melody and vary it —cover that entire territory, basically."
This weekend, The Galen Kipar Project will celebrate the release of The Scenic Route by performing the album in its entirety at The Lexington Avenue Brewery, and they're bringing along some friends to help cover all that territory. In addition to the core lineup of Kipar, guitarist Jon Morrow and drummer Jeremy Young, guests are slated to include an array of local talent including Aaron Price (piano/organ), Aaron Ballance (lap steel), Lyndsay Pruett (violin), Vincent Corda (saxophone/flute) and Ashley Wilson (vocals).
If you're thinking that's a lot of sound for such a small room, it is. "We're really looking forward to playing there," Kipar says," but I hope we can all fit on the stage."
Dane Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: The Galen Kipar Project
what: CD-release for The Scenic Route
where: The Lexington Avenue Brewery
when: Saturday, May 29 (9 p.m. $8. www.lexavebrew.com)