Nashville-based singer-songwriter James DiGirolamo has extensive experience as a session musician and touring sideman. As a keyboard player, he’s worked with Mindy Smith, Holly Williams, Peter Bradley Adams, Alice Peacock, Robby Hecht, Fognode, The Bittersweets, Judson Spence, and many others. DiGirolamo’s latest solo work draws on a wide array of influences including Paul Simon, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Elliott Smith, Kate Bush, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Harry Nilsson, Thomas Dolby, Steven Sondheim, XTC, Steely Dan, Ben Folds, Ron Sexsmith, and to no small degree many friends and peers from his time in Nashville, such as Sarah Siskind. In his words, “These are not always overt, or even apparent, but they’re in there- that’s part of the beauty of the DNA of songwriting.”
The title Paper Boats is a playful combination of the names of the first and last tracks. As DiGirolamo puts it, “in my mind, each of the songs is a tiny boat I constructed, which I now hope to launch across a glassy pond, or -more like it- a turbulent sea.”
The opening track, “Same Boat,” comes from a Stevie Wonder/ Paul McCartney-esque place. From the song – “I can’t pretend that I have all the answers/ by magic turn these fighters into dancers.” JD explains, “Sometimes a phrase just sticks in mind, or goes perfectly with what you’re playing on the piano, and so you see where it leads. In this case, words tumbled out to form a catchy tune about people coming together to face big challenges. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive statement on the subject, it’s just one sweeping aspect of the conversation. We have to imagine that world before we can make it real. The musical style is a bit of a stew, too, just like all of us diverse humans who need one another.”
The hypnotic track “On Paper” finds the song’s protagonist reflecting on divorce with some startling imagery: “Black is the color of ink a squid jets out when he takes a fright/ silly me, I never stop to think, I might just have to gear up for a fight.” In his songwriting, DiGirolamo clearly seeks to avoid predictable lyrics and chords, but skillfully walks the high wire with creative choices. The results are fresh and complex, resonant rather than opaque.
The rest of the EP is made up of love songs, though decidedly not the run of the mill. “The Girl Who has Everything” explores a few fanciful notions about what you might offer such a person, besides one’s undying love and devotion, that is. The song was co-written with Daniel Tashian, “seemingly a lifetime ago,” notes DiGirolamo. We were in no small way emulating Burt Bacharach at the time, and I have not shied away from this in my horn arrangement. It is marvelous that Daniel has gone on to actually record an album with Burt! I’m very happy to finally give this song wings, after a few pre-Wright Brothers-style attempts.”