Early last summer a young, Arizona-born, twenty-two year old named Ramon Vicente Alarcon (a.k.a. Ramona Cordova) phoned ECA Records founder Dave Conway and told him about some songs he'd been working on that centered around a little fairy tale of sorts he'd written. Dave, who runs ECA Records with Mary Kate Melnick (mostly out of her house when the both of them aren't working at their day jobs), told Ramon that he had some money saved up and invited the young songwriter to Boston to record what would become The Boy Who Floated Freely without ever hearing a single note of a single song.
The result was an album as weird as it is beautiful, as spectacular as it is unique and as purely imaginative as it is unforgettable. Based around Ramon's fairy tale, the album tells the story of a boy named Giver who washes ashore on an island, meets a band of gypsies, gets drugged with a sleep/love potion by a beautiful gypsy girl, eventually falls in love with her but takes too long in the process. Because of this, she grows bored and abandons him, leaving him alone once again.
The story, like the album, is intricate and detailed, but very subtle. It doesn't accost the listener with over-indulgent narrative. Instead, it flows along softly and gently, allowing the listener to decipher its genius in due time, over a series of listens. Beginning with the sound of birds chirping and the falsetto feminine voice of Cordova over light guitar strumming, "Introduction" ends with the sound of wind rushing and waves crashing and leads into "Inside The Gypsy Bar" with the sound of a creaky wooden door opening and a hearty greeting from those inside. The bar then erupts with the noisy strumming of Spanish guitar and hand claps as Cordova's unique vocal prowess showcases his multi-lingual aptitude with a passionate and elegant song sung in Spanish.
The story continues with "Giver's Reply," an organ drenched thing of beauty that bounces back and forth between slow, skeleton-like verses and clangy, garbage can percussion-filled choruses. Something about its childlike innocence and dreamlike delivery strikes a chord with me and sucks me into the next track like a jet engine of artistic inspiration.
Classical guitar work and more falsetto vocals find their way onto "Mixing The Potion," a sub-two-minute ditty sung from the perspective of a young gypsy girl, while the next song, "Heavy On My Head," brings some of the most thoughtful lyrical phrases on the album to the table. Finding beauty in the simple things, or looking at everyday events or feelings in a poetic and unique way is something I find to be an essential component of truly artistic songwriting. "I was born with eyes/I've seen what you're all about/I was raised with ears/I've heard what you have to say," Cordova sings on "Heavy On My Head." "I was born with feet/I've walked all around this land/I was raised with hands/I pushed through some padlocked doors," he continues. The simplicity of these words are the source of their beauty. Sung over the simple strumming of an acoustic guitar, they resonate with power and frailty and sadness.
"Brother" and "Sung With The Birds" are similar to the previous track, with simple guitar and vocals and thoughtful lyrics that tear at your heart strings. "One Day, Someday" is a song about what might become between two young lovers, one of which feels too young and inexperienced to truly make the other happy, while "Hot And Heavy Harmony" is a sweet and soft one minute, thirty-nine second realization of love.
With "Chesser," the story begins to wind down with Giver and his love parting ways, as Cordova sings both characters' parts as a duet, ping-ponging back and forth between a high falsetto and a more subdued, gentle voice. The passion and pressure and soul wrenching intensity of this break up song explodes and releases in peaks and valleys of emotional intricacy, ending with the repeating of "Tell me what I should do/'cause I'm not getting anything/and I know what it's like too/It's not only you," words that seem to parallel my own romantic relationships.
The album and story end with "Take Flight," a one minute, ten second realization of loneliness by the main character. "My favorite paper airplanes are the ones I write to you/your favorite paper airplanes are the ones that light your fire." And it's over...
The small press mailing sent by the label included a small piece of paper cut from a larger ink sketch of two young boys on a beach. It was folded into a paper airplane. At the time, I had no idea what it was, or why it was in there, but now I get it. I "get" this whole album. It's the beautiful and strange vision of a dreamer, a boy that was sung to sleep with the Spanish lullabies of his grandmother and the subtle acoustic guitar of his father and who was infatuated with animated fairy tales like Pinocchio and Snow White as a child. It is Jose Gonzalez and it is Devandra Banhart. It is a Grimm's fairy tale. It is odd and fascinating. It is not for everyone, but it is for me. It might be for you, too.
A small initial pressing of this treasure was first released in August of last year but quickly sold out. ECA re-pressed the album and re-issued it in late March. Hard copies of the record aren't abundant, but you can buy it on iTunes. If you're not afraid of music that makes no apologies for being a work of "art," or that steps outside of "the box" and does a flamenco dance or two, I suggest picking up The Boy Who Floated Freely. Oh, and if you do, be sure to read about the fairy tale on which the album is based on Cordova's MySpace page (you can also stream four tracks).