Paper boats have to be constructed well or they sink. The songs on Ed Woltil’s new album, Paper Boats: A Reverie in Thirteen Acts, are marvels of construction. They float, sail, and motor along – each a three or four minute work of art.
Woltil’s had a long time to perfect his craft. In the 1980’s and 90’s he was the leader of Tampa folk-rock trio Mad For Electra. Since then he’s recorded two critically acclaimed albums as co-leader of The Ditchflowers. He now strikes out under his own name for this solo release on the small Sunshine Drenchy label, run by musician Steve Robinson. In fact, Robinson (of 80’s Tampa Bay area band The Headlights) and Woltil have a forthcoming project as a duo coming out later this year.
Paper Boats is a literate and intelligent, fresh-sounding collection of folky pop rock, not too dissimilar from what Woltil’s been doing all along, but more focused here. Some of his influences – Paul McCartney, Harry Nilsson, Jimmy Webb, Roger McGuinn – shine through as well. It’s a warm album, a ship’s log full of life insights and observations as seen from the perspective of middle age.
In lead-off track “Algebra”, he acknowledges the logic-and-science-based world we live in, but notes that “hearts get in the way.” He says of the song: “If the world is perfect and can be described neatly in mathematical terms—as some physicists and other brainy types have claimed—then why do I feel so confused? ‘Spell’ it out for me, please—I’m better with words than I am with numbers.”
Emotions and perceptions sometimes mean more than the chemical formulas underlying existence: “Algebra is Greek to me / But your blue eyes they speak to me”.
“Hiding in Plain Sight” brings to mind Joe Walsh’s recent “Analog Man”, at least in subject matter. Woltil’s song, though, is a more thoughtful and acutely observed rumination on our present day technology obsessed culture. “We are everywhere and barely there / hiding in plain sight”, he sings. He expounds further about the track on his website: “The world is getting smaller and we’re all more connected than ever, right? Hello? Actually, more and more often I feel disconnected and I have to remind myself to look away from the screen and toward the big beautiful world. I get the feeling I’m not alone…”
Though the album is primarily built on acoustic guitar, he changes tack with “The Shortest Distance (Between Two Hearts)”, a drum and organ-based light-soul number with a hummable, head-bobbing cosmopolitan groove. It fits in well with the relaxed nature of the other tracks, adding another texture to the proceedings.
Listening to Paper Boats is like going on a voyage of discovery through the little joys and heartbreaks of life with an experienced sailor and guide. Woltil shines as the pilot of his own ship – here’s to more cruises in the future.