It was a quiet night on the cobblestones at the end of Quincy Market. A young musician stood with his acoustic guitar, an amplifier and a microphone playing to a relatively large crowd as the sun sank away for the night, leaving him and his audience under the light glow of the moon at dusk. About to wrap up his set with one last original song, Alex Navarro, whose singer-songwriter project is titled Free Alley, turned to his amp to see the battery had died. Instead of calling it quits early, he asked the crowd to encircle him as he played his last song acoustically and crooned his original lyrics to those surrounding him over a simple, gentle chord progression.
As he stood encapsulated by this crowd, it’s hard to imagine that they too were not encapsulated and entranced by his music. The true vigor and passion behind his mildly raspy voice and highly personal lyrics transcends any background noise presented by those hustling by. His mellow guitar playing merely amplifies his unequivocally organic lyrics which reverently match the stylistics of his major influences Jackson Browne and James Taylor. To Navarro, playing an original song acoustically to a crowd in such an intimate setting and receiving a reception as warm as he did is, he claims, “the realest thing I could experience as a musician.”
While listening to Navarro talk about his music, one can only be amazed and humbled by the humility he has toward being a musician. His music sounds aged and his lyrics meticulously refined, but he is self-conscious about his instrumental abilities, as he only began playing guitar a few years ago. He gives away CDs because he wants people to hear the music he writes. He is grateful for any opportunity afforded to him to play any venue, even if just two people show up to listen. That’s two more people he gets to share his music with. And two more people who can be awed by his talent.
Navarro decided to begin busking earlier in the summer of 2014, as poorly promoted gigs proved to be a useless way to spread his music. Instead, he took to the streets to play to those who would stop to listen. He went to Faneuil Hall and got kicked out, as he hadn’t submitted an application, and proceeded to play at Kenmore Square and on Newbury Street, before returning to Faneuil Hall, where the large crowd allow for him to get an instant reaction to his original songs. Although he admits it is much more of a grind and it’s hard to know where exactly it’s getting you, it has undoubtedly helped raise awareness for his music.
His writing process is particularly interesting, as his lyrics are so personal that he couldn’t image writing for anyone else and can’t even explain where it really comes from. The creative substance doesn’t come out in verse form, but rather a melody and language, which only sometimes takes shape into a song. Unfinished lyrics are stuffed into binders that fill shelves in his Boston College dorm room. His process is natural and non-deliberate – he never sits down with the goal of writing a song.
In the future, Navarro wishes to continue to write songs, go on tour, play to a responsive audience and develop a true relationship with the crowd. These goals are undoubtedly obtainable.
It is his dream to be a songwriter, and Free Alley is just the beginning. His debut album is due out in early 2015 and will be available on his Bandcamp page.