Ben Folds returns with ‘What Matters Most,’ his first studio disc since 2015

Note: July 26 is the new date for this concert, which was postponed due to illness. Tickets will be honored for the new date. Guest conductor Edwin Outwater now will lead this concert. For more information, please contact Patron Services, at (312) 294-3000.

After eight years, pop music sensation Ben Folds has a new studio album, “What Matters Most,” out June 2 on the label New West. 

“There’s a lifetime of craft and experience all focused into this one record,” said Folds, who will perform July 26 (rescheduled from May 30) with the members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in a statement. “Sonically, lyrically, emotionally, I don’t think it’s an album I could have made at any other point in my career.” 

Folds’ last studio album was “So There” (2015), a collaboration with yMusic. His last full-on solo album was “Way to Normal” (2008). Folds co-produced “What Matters Most,” with Joe Pisapia (whose credits include k.d. lang and Guster), with recording in East Nashville, Tennessee.

“I come from the vinyl era, and this perhaps more than any record I’ve made is a true album,” he said. “There’s a very specific sequence and arc to each side, all building up to this almost surreal positive finale, and that structure was really important to me. More than anything, I wanted to make an album that was generous, that was useful. I want you to finish this record with something you didn’t have when you started.”

Over the last decade, Folds has been working with orchestras and contributing songs to soundtracks.

“It can be difficult jumping back and forth from one discipline to another,” he said. “But you learn so much from moving between worlds and collaborating with so many different kinds of artists. I performed some of the songs on this record with the National Symphony Orchestra [of Washington, D.C.] before I finished recording them for the album, and that context gave me so much insight into how I wanted to handle them in the studio.”

The new disc’s second single, “Back to Anonymous,” reflects on the challenges of being famous. He wrote the song during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It got me thinking about everyday people who just do the most amazing things that we should aspire to, yet they never get applause,” he said. “That’s who the song is for — those who truly deserve to be recognized and applauded.”