Listen: “The Letter” – Todd Kessler
Todd Kessler is far more than just a singer-songwriter. In the vein of artists like the Weakerthans or the Mountain Goats, he’s also an excellent storyteller. Discussing “The Letter,” Kessler says,
The idea was sparked from a book I was reading at the time. The main character was regretful that he had run away from a relationship instead of pursuing it. It quickly evolved into a story about a guy that runs away from an unrequited love to a far away city, an old city, with the hopes of helping others. He soon realizes that the person who most needed healing was himself. Once he realizes that he heads home to find that the girl he loved was now unavailable. It is pure fiction, the only piece of me in it is the Samson and Delilah reference. I used to have very long dread locks and was always afraid to cut them, part of me thought I would lose a part of myself. Gladly, I was wrong. In regards to the story behind the cover art, I found an old photo album of my grandparents in storage. It was all of their photos from a trip they took to Asia in 1968. The man in the picture is my Mom’s Dad walking through a market in what is my guess Hong Kong or Cambodia. Kinda cool…”
Kessler’s chorus truly captures how it feels to hold onto fear and heartache:
I couldn’t face it if you turned me down
So I keep it in my pocket
Right next to my heart
Now I am back to where I started
Even if the song is fictional, the idea of holding in feelings as a vicious cycle is a viscerally real feeling, and he brings it up in the second verse, “In the ruins of that ancient city, I couldn’t find what I’d sought.” His narrator is trying to find his lost passion that he constantly pulls with him.
The song’s climax shows exactly what can happen if you just sit on your feelings for too long. Kessler is really an amazing traditional storyteller in that his tales carry a strong moral. In “The Letter,” he reveals that it’s not wise to just sit on your feelings for so long, otherwise you may end up just being the other man. Even if the song isn’t based on Kessler’s own life, it is an easily relatable emotion to anyone that lets their feelings linger without making them known.
Over a bluesy acoustic guitar, this song bares resemblance to classic country ballads, and Kessler’s sweet, clean voice falls over them fittingly. He has both power and sorrow on the bridge as he rehearses begging the woman he loves not to marry another man. The song ends with sparse, fading instruments, as Kessler’s voice gets softer and sadder, making this a must-listen on all Autumn playlists.
Kessler’s forthcoming album About Memory is out November 3rd. He has upcoming shows in New York and Chicago. Stream “The Letter” and watch the official music video now, both exclusively on Atwood Magazine!