Folk-charting songwriter Jaspar Lepak returns with her new feminist-themed album So Strong. The follow-up to her breakout album Desert Ghosts (which charted in the Top 10 on folk radio), this highly anticipated release perfectly weaves the personal with the political – inspired by the overturning of Roe, the loss of her childhood friend to cancer and her own experiences with pregnancy, childbirth and caregiving. Bravely honest, the songs are deep, sweet and even playful at times. From the funny, science-based “P Is For Placenta” to the unflinching gospel declaration of “I Am Human,” Jaspar proves why folk legend Christine Lavin has called her “the real deal.”
While the themes are timely, the songs sound timeless, mixing classic folk, gospel and country sounds. Recorded with producer Alicia Healey at The Winterblue Room in Seattle, Jaspar brought in longtime collaborator Ben Cook-Feltz (keyboards, vocals) as well as her former Raising Hazel bandmates Avery Hill and Mandy Troxel and fellow Minneapolis musicians The OK Factor (strings), Riley Skinner (vocals) and The High 48s’ Anthony Ihrig (dobro). Never losing sight of the song or Jaspar’s crystalline vocals, the production is warm, radio-friendly and disarming in its pure transparency. Jaspar lays herself bare, guiding us through the world she wrestles with while also highlighting the joy of family and friendship and the power of claiming her own body.
Several of the songs were inspired by books like Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Anger (“My Own Moves”) and Angela Garbes’ Like A Mother (“P Is for Placenta” and “So Strong”). “The ability to carry a pregnancy to term and give birth is a wildly powerful thing,” Jaspar says. “After I gave birth, I was in complete awe of my body. The amount of strength I held within me was more than I had ever imagined. At the same time, I was ashamed of my body. It didn’t look like it had before. Neither did the time I had to give to my work or previous commitments. Everything had shifted and instead of embracing this new person I was becoming, I was so afraid of losing who I was. Angela Garbes’ book gave me language for my transformation.”
Like a good book, So Strong takes us on a moving journey. After the opening thesis “I Am Human” (written within weeks of the overturning of Roe), Jaspar shares stories of pain, loss and resilience, ultimately coming to the conclusion that she, and we, are exactly who/what/where we are supposed to be. While her last album was recorded during the pandemic and searched inward, this powerful sequel shows a songwriter unafraid to confront injustice in the world as well as her own insecurities and fears. Songs like “Mary” and “Kind” address the struggles of being a parent and partner while trying to maintain a sense of self, while “So Strong” and “Stay True” defy society’s expectations of women’s bodies and personal successes, finishing off the album with the powerful statement: “You are measuring your worth by the wrong things...When it feels like the whole world is measuring you, there’s only one thing you can do...darling, stay true.”
Documenting her life and reflecting ours, Jaspar addresses some big issues from safe access to healthcare to body image to the loss of loved ones. “This album is both a celebration and journey through the hard stuff,” Jaspar says. “We need songs that travel with us as we navigate the enormous and joyful responsibility of caring for children, each other and ourselves.” So Strong is that soundtrack we need right now, a kind companion that reminds us we are strong and powerful no matter what the world tells us.