Monday, 7 July 2014
Art Garfunkel "Angel Clare" (1973)
Travelin' Boy/Down In The Willow Garden/I Shall Sing/Old Man/Feuilles Oh-Do Spacemen Pass Dead Souls On Their Way To The Moon?//All I Know/Mary Was An Only Child/Woyaya/Barbara Allen/Another Lullaby
Following up 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' would have been challenging had Simon and Garfunkel stayed together, but trying to follow it up without each other was near impossible. Together the duo had been invincible, building by word of mouth and film soundtrack to become the darlings of America and beyond - but separately both were untried, untested, an unknown quantity in the public's minds. Interestingly both chose to cope with the success story of their era in very similar ways: chiefly by ignoring it. We've already covered Paul's side of the story in News, Views and Music Issue #124 - the fact that he took a year out and then gathered together as many people from the same 'cast' as 'Bridge' as he could, despite making an under-stated, largely acoustic album that couldn't have been more different. Closer in character than a lot of people expected, Arty did exactly the same thing: only he took an extra year off (1971 was pretty much Arty's 'gap year', spent reading, walking and going to the theatre) and his album was considerably more lush than Paul's (if not quite as lush as fans were expecting after 'Bridge'). Paul had had a hard time trying to be taken seriously by the music community despite being the writer and guitarist in the band and only really got the public interested in his career again with his second 'There Goes Rhymin' Simon', released five months before Arty's debut. For Arty, a singer rather than a writer or musician and with the extra time and goodwill elapsing since 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', had more to prove than most.
No one knew what to expect when Garfunkel first entered a recording studio without Paul Simon in tow (for the first time since 1959), least of all the singer himself and 'Angel Clare' had a remarkably troubled birth, arguably more so than any other Simon and Garfunkel related album ('Graceland' will cut it close, though that album's problems are slightly different in that the complications set in at birth). The problem was, no one else had ever been Art's position before: groups had split up and gone on to solo acts but that had never really happened to duos, who both tended to slink into obscurity. The Division was an interesting one too: Paul had his voice, his guitar and most importantly his songs and was always going to sound something like his old Simon and Garfunkel self, simply because the duo expressed his own inner writing voice; by contrast Art could sing the telephone directory and make it pretty and the sky really was the limit. But should there be a limit? Should he stick with the work of one writer the way he had with Paul (and to some extent will in the late 1970s with Jimmy Webb)? Or should he work with a series of writers and work an album of quite different material together like a patchwork quilt and hope to join it up at the end? Should Art prove that he was more than just a singer of 'pretty' songs? or should he take the easy way out and record a lot of certain hits? Art stumbled on for the first three or four songs, rather unsure of himself and admitting later than he was taking longer and longer on his lunch breaks to avoid the awful moment of knuckling back to work and having to face the prospect of abandoning the album partway through. But then he found a breakthrough, contacting Jimmy Webb and asking his advice: the pair then built up a whole great list of songs (not all one Jimmy had written), including several that Art went on to record on the next three instalment of his 'best-selling quartet' ('Breakaway' 'Watermark' and 'Fate For Breakfast'). Building up this series of songs allowed Arty to see how big and powerful a solo album could be, a world away from the small and tiny recording studio he went to everyday. (Arty's reliance on Webb's songwriting will reach quite dangerous levels on 1977's 'Watermark', whose 10/12 Webb selections borders on sycophantisism but to be fair Webb's material is easily the best of Garfunkel's early solo records).
If you're a casual fan of Art Garfunkel then you're probably expecting me to say that Arty went for making the 'hits' and the sort of radio-friendly soft-rock ballads he made his name with. The fact that pretty much every future Art Garfunkel album (barring, perhaps, 1986's 'The Animals' Christmas' and 2002's 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed') manages to be lush, easy on the ear and - for all their worth ('Breakaway' especially is a stunning yet simple pop LP) - predictable has meant that many fans who came to Simon and Garfunkel late have got the wrong end of the stick about 'Angel Clare'. Yes the orchestrations are as 'heavy' as ever, Arty sings with the voice of an angel and the album is decidedly top-heavy in the ballads department. But 'Angel Clare' is not a 'simple' record by any means. The song does contain Art's first hit (Jimmy Webb's superior ballad 'All I Know') and it's as good a pop concoction as any in his future canon. But the rest of the album is decidedly dangerous - certainly a lot more subversive than anything on Paul Simon's first LP for anyone keeping score - and contains references to murder, blood, death, hanging and loneliness, all of which only ended up being played on the radio when someone like Johnny Cash was singing them. Notably there are no graceful epic torch songs like 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', no great statements of faith ('I love you and that's all I know' is about the closest the album comes to commitment) and none of the big empty space 'noodling' of Arty's other big moment from 'Bridge', 'So Long Frank Lloyd Wright', all of which might have been a more assured way of being certain of success.
Arty's unique gift is that he can take all the horrors of the world away and replace them with purity and love, an ability he's always had but which really comes into play on this debut LP. Remember earlier when we said Arty could sing the telephone directory and still have it coming out sounding beautiful? Well, 'Angel Clare' is the next best thing - a series of dark and often depressing songs (not unlike those from his 'other' dark album, 1981's 'Scissors Cut') sung as beautifully as they could possibly be sung. 'Angel Clare' is the equivalent of the Beach Boys recording a song about a bunch of notorious gangsters or Justin Bieber suddenly doing a graphic song about a mass murderer: the songs on 'Angel Clare' should be far out of Arty's comfort zone and yet such is the clever control of his voice and his knowledge of how the public will most likely perceive him that Garfunkel has the conviction and the ability to pull the album off. Unfortunately for Arty, he seems to have been cleverer with his idea than he expected: as far as I know no one else has ever come forward and claimed that 'Angel Clare' is his dark tea-time of the soul, the way 'Tonight's The Night' is for Neil Young or 'John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' is for Lennon. Instead people tend to think of this record as being as glossy as all the others, albeit with a couple of rather unsettling moments. And yet I'd stake my Simon and Garfunkel box set that this is what was in his mind as he was making it.
For example, the ever literate Garfunkel gave fans a 'clue' as to what the album was about with it's very title. When Thomas Hardy gave the name 'Angel Clare' to the second-most important figure in 'Tess Of The D'Urbervilles' he was being ironic, giving the nicest name he possibly could to trying to the respectable, honourable Reverend's son and making his later 'fall' in the reader's eyes all the more shocking. Poor Tess discovers too late that Clare is only an 'Angel' in a very narrow sense (going to church, being polite to all the local noblemen): the moment when Tess needs him (after being raped around the middle of the book) he becomes an unsympathetic monster, more concerned with how her 'slur' will look on him and eventually abandoning her on the night of their wedding. Arty is delivering his 'fall' in his listener's ears in 'reverse' - challenging head on the notion that an angelic singer with an angelic voice can only record angelic songs. Just listen to three of the scariest moments on the album: the noble gentlemen luring a peasant girl out to a 'willow garden' on a summer's day and debating whether poisoning her or stabbing her would be quicker (the narrator even gets hung for his crimes in the last verse, something that passes you by unless you have a lyric sheet handy - sadly there weren't any with the original album which might have offered fans more of a clue). There is another clue in the album cover though: Art is staring at the album, near-face on, with a quizzical expression on his place and on first appearance looks smart (its probably co-incidental but it's not far off the full-on shot of Paul on the cover of his first record, albeit not quite as smiley). But have a good look at that cover - a really good look. Paul's shirt has a hole in it, on his right hand shoulder (ie left when you look at the record), just below the cover (I didn't notice it for years, but then I did own this album on cassette first before I bought it on vinyl and my eyesight's not as good at that size!) This album isn't as smart and polished as it sounds on first hearing thanks to the glossy production - instead the darker, seamier (or should that be unseamier?) side of life keeps peeking through.
Take a good half of the material on the album. Randy Newman, a writer who shares a similar ability to make quite deep and terrifying songs sound happy, provides 'Old Man' about a local OAP whom nobody likes and instead of offering him redemption as Simon and Garfunkel would, tells him 'there's no God for you old man...everybody dies' (death was something for a pre-occupation for Garfunkel, who tackled the subject with 'Voices Of Lonely Old People', his vox-popped contribution to the 'seven ages of man' side of 'Bookends' and yet he hasn't touched on it at all with his, admittedly small, amount of recent work; by contrast I can't put my finger on any Paul Simon song that mentions old age or death until the 1990s and now it's a theme that hovers over practically everything he writes). Even 'Another Lullaby' is trying to lull a baby to sleep despite the knowledge that a disaster is going to arrive any second and even if the baby gets any sleep you know reading between the lines that the parent never will. Finally 'Do Spacemen Pass Old Souls On Their Way To The Moon?' has to be the eeriest interpretation of Bach ever, a mournful middle eight slap bang in the middle of the traditional folk-song 'Feuilles-Oh' which makes that pure and innocent song sound suddenly mocking and sinister in one fell swoop. If Paul Simon wasn't worried, he should have been - although it sounds like even Arty's old friend (who provided the album's fifth scariest moment with Hammond and Hazelwood's 'Mary Was An Only Child', a song he heard and thought was right up his partner's street) missed the point, later writing 'My Little Town' in 1975 after commenting that 'you're singing so many sweet songs its driving me crazy!'Admittedly, sitting in contrast to that you have a cover of Van Morrison's daftest track 'I Shall Sing' (the one that has more la-las per line than a 1970s heat of the Eurovision Song Contest) and the gently uplifting 'Woyaya', the one song on this album that does seem to believe in an end destination that's happy and cosy and safe. But even that song makes it clear that the destination is not at all happy cosy or safe. Later Garfunkel albums will be genuinely happy, upbeat affairs that don't need to add any darker edges (until the sorry saga over Laurie Bird, covered in our review for 'Scissors Cut' anyway), but by Garfunkel standards 'Angel Clare' is the musical equivalent of that nice hot relaxing bath you're already half into before you've discovered the hot water taps stopped working or settling down to watch an interesting looking programme that then gets cancelled at the last minute, like BBC4 did with their 'Rolling Stones' night the other week (or perhaps picking up the comfortable, smart jacket that suddenly develops a hole...)
Another theme of the record is moving on and not being sure whether to regret the fact or not. Strangely most critics seem to miss this point too, even though 'Angel Clare' starts off with the wandering vagabond 'Travelling Boy' and with the exception of closer 'Another Lullaby' ends with 'Barbara Allen', one of Arty's favourite folk songs, where the title character's lover dies pining for her and the pair wait to be reunited from their different realms. The Simon and Garfunkel split must have been sitting over the shoulders of Art and Jimmy when they debated the songs for this album and there are lots of references to having to move on to somewhere new, even when you don't want to (contrast with Paul's first album, which is more about 'freedom' but does take time to note that reunion 'is only a motion away'). Some bands can split and depending how they came together the members in them barely even notice: did Robbie Williams spend any time thinking about the rest of Take That (until his solo career died up and he needed the money?) Did Geri Halliwell give two hoots about the other Spice Girls (until the 2012 Olympics came a-calling?!) I doubt it! Paul and Arty, though, had been school friends and had known each other more than 20 years by 1973 (the year they both turned just 32),. They'd been virtually the only people they knew in their childhoods who shared the same passions (music hadn't been that big in either the Simon or the Garfunkel families and both sets of parents were more amused than anything when their teenage sons started having hits as 'Tom and Jerry') and the cheerleaders for each other's talents (within reason! Anyone who believes that Garfunkel was merely in the duo for the ride needs to read his sleeve notes to the pair's 1964 record 'Wednesday Morning 3 AM' released years before the duo were famous, in which Art's enthusiasm and passion spills out). There's a big hole in both Simon and Garfunkel's first solo albums that neither of them can fill, even though they finds ways to manage later: each other and specifically the belief of having another person willing the projects on. Both men work with close friend and engineer Roy Halee, which undoubtedly helped, but he'd only known the pair for eight years and shared the teenage bond they both shared. Arty's meant to be singing about a romance when he sings the album's most quoted lined (from hit single 'All I Know'): 'Endings always come at last, endings always come too fast'. But I wonder if his mind strayed, if just for a second, to the missing figure who wasn't there sharing the mike with him that day.
One thing Arty probably didn't miss was Paul's dominance of the material the pair sung. He'd been trying to get versions of traditional folk tales 'Barbara Allen' and 'Feuilles-Oh' into the duo's albums for years (you can hear the pair doing a very rushed sounding version of the former song as a bonus track on the 'Sounds Of Silence' CD and 'Feuilles-Oh' was Garfunkel's attempt at providing the contentious '12th song' on 'Bridge Over Troubled Water; Paul hated it and wanted to record his own political rant 'Cuba Si, Nixon No' instead - in the end the duo compromised by letting the album out without either song and reduced to just 11 tracks; Paul must have softened his stance as a demo version turned up as a bonus track on 'Bridge' - we're still waiting for the first official appearance of 'Cuba'). It makes sense that Arty should include both songs here as he can do what he wants for the first time, although as might be expected neither version comes close to what the pair sang together, even in slapdash form (Arty needs Paul's weightier, more awkward tones for his innocent part on 'Feuilles-Oh' to sound quite so golden and delicious, which may be the reason Paul rejected it as it doesn't cast him in a good vocal light; the decision to add that eerie Bach-based middle eight in a 'Scarborough Fair-Canticle' type contrast is as good a substitute as any Art could have made but still not quite as successful).
In other ways Art should have been having the time of his life. He got married, for the first time, to Linda Marie Grossman - an architect who penned the words to the brief snippet 'Do Spacemen Pass Dead Souls On Their Way To The Moon?' less than a month after the album's release. And yet if you read this album's lyrics (admittedly none of them written by Garfunkel but all of them chosen by him) you wouldn't think that this was a man in love: Barbara Allen is a love the narrator can never have, 'Willow Garden' plots the murder of the girl in the song, 'Travelling Boy' is apologetic for pretending to be in love but he's really not the 'settling type'. Only 'All I Know' and 'Mary Was An Only Child' are the expected 'love' songs you'd expect Art to be singing (and which he'll make his name with later in the decade) but neither of them are 'normal' love songs at all: 'All I Know' is a love song made in the full acceptance that love is a fleeting, mysterious feeling that's more likely to die than thrive and 'Mary' is a lonely girl born into poverty and destitution and yet still destined for great things thanks to her character (is she the Virgin Mary? or a more modern 'Mary' destined for greatness? Either way, it's her ability to outshine her dark background that makes her special in this song). To quote from a future Paul Simon song, that sure don't feel like love. We may be reading too much into these things, but it is true to say that Art's first marriage wasn't very long lived: the pair divorced just two years later in 1975. His only real comments since have been that it 'was turbulent and ended bitterly' and that he 'never really loved her'. It's not unprecedented for an AAA star to record a distinctly un-romantic album at the same time as getting married and later declare it to be a 'mistake' - Neil Young did the same with his eponymous first solo record.
So is 'Angel Clare' a great album then? Well, sadly not - in many ways Garfunkel has been too clever by half and 'Angel' is a record you admire and play sparingly rather than one you fall in love with and which is never parted from your record player. The material here is inconsistent, varying from the genuinely unnerving (the 'Dead Souls' passage works so well because its unexpected) to the deeply hidden (this must be the prettiest version of murder-song 'Willow Garden' ever recorded) that expects the listener to perhaps do too much work to appreciate. While none of the material is as bad as, say, some of the shocking Rogers-Hammerstein 'South Pacific' songs the listener is subjected to as part of the album 'Some Enchanted Evening' or the worst of the even more inconsistent 'Watermark' and 'Fate For Breakfast' LPs, tracks like the gormless 'I Shall Sing' and the boring 'Feuilles-Oh' waste Arty's very fine talents. That said, Garfunkel is on typically fine voice and only a vocalist that strong and that natural and yet also that prepared to do his homework could have made songs like the OTT drama 'Another Lullaby' and the quite frankly vicious 'Old Man' work as well as they do. The album also contains two stunningly great moments with 'All I Know' and 'Mary Was An Only Child', the two songs that represent Arty's best solo work of the 20th century in your humble scribe's opinions, which represent exactly the path Arty should have taken: songs of joy and hope but with a darker edge that the later passionate ballads like 'I Believe' and 'I Only Have Eyes For You' don't possess, however good I consider them both to be (the closest Art ever comes to recapturing the feel of this album is with 'Bright Eyes', the song about death from 'Watership Down' which many people were surprised author Mike Batt asked Art to sing; he must have been a fan of the darker tinges of this album too). 'Angel Clare' is not without its faults, then, but like the character it is named after it possesses just enough talent and the goodness of humanity to make redemption seem hopeful right the way to the end. Arty might have made a better record had he taken the 'safer' route he employs on his next three albums (we gave follow-up 'Breakaway' the nudge over this one because it's a much more consistent record, even if it doesn't have a single song to match up to the two we highlighted here), but full kudos to Garfunkel to daring to travel down a much more interesting path. A future travel down this road, with the confidence gained from having more solo albums under his belt, might have made for a fascinating LP...
The album starts with a sound few fans would have been expecting: the slow, stubborn chug of a harpsichord, with an orchestra lightly trilling in the background. The effect sounds like someone trying to get out of as warm and cosy bed and face something they don't want to - which is indeed the theme of most of opening song 'Travelin' Boy'. The harpsichord is played by Larry Knechtel and sounds rather different to his last famous piano part - the soaring opening to 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'. This time the mood is flatter and less celebratory. Paul Williams - star of many a cover song on this website, most of them courtesy of The Monkees - wrote the song with Roger Nichols, but sadly it's not one of his best. The travelling boy character comes across as unlikeable, waking his lover up to tell her he's leaving despite promising to stay, as his place is on the open road. The song has some excellent lyrics (sample: 'one night of love beside a strange young smile') and his promise to always think of her brings a smile, but nowhere in the song does he explain why he couldn't have said all of these things the night before and thus spare her the heartbreak. The recording never really catches fire either - Arty reportedly spent a long time on the song, recording take after take before he could get the 'power' he needed in the middle eight. But it sounds as if he sang either one take too many or one too few - he's not 'living' this song the way Garfunkel so often does at his best and the curious mix makes everything sound as if its happening at a distance - which is valuable for the sensitive and nicely sparing orchestral part but not for Arty's voice. He's actually outshone for once by singer Sally Stevens who holds down the impressive 'top note' of the song even he can't reach. Guitarist J J Cale makes a guest appearance on this track too, although he gets a bit lost inside everything that's happening to be honest (he'll pop up later on Paul Simon's 'Rhythm Of The Saints' LP and make rather more of an impact. All in all 'Travellin' Boy' isn't a great start - the theme of having to travel on should have been a terrific answer to all the critics who were wondering why Simon and Garfunkel couldn't patch up their differences and make another 'Bridge' but no one's heart seems to be in this song and it drifts rather than soars. Thankfully the album will get better from here.
Garfunkel has often sounded at his best on old folk songs, adding a purity and innocence even Pentangle can't match (his 'She Moved Through The Fair' from 'Watermark' is another career highlight) and 'Down In The Willow Garden' suits him better than most. People often assume, generally wrongly, that any song written before their parent's generation can't possibly possess the horror or graphicness of the current generation - that they were born from an innocent time when such things never happened. 'Willow Garden' is best known as 'Rose Connelly', an Appalachian Mountain folk song dating from around the early 1800s - a time when casual murder, such as that depicted in the song, was a lot higher than it ever has been in the 20th or 21st centuries (so far anyway - if David Cameron remains in office in the UK much longer that could all change). Art's version is based on the most 'famous' version of the song, adapted by folk singer Charlie Munroe in 1947 (which is still the one beibg used today - Norah Jones did a version in 2013 which is spookily similar to Garfunkel's 'pure' reading) and doesn't spare on the grisly details. It should sound wrong hearing Arty's velvet honey tones singing such lines as 'I drew a sabre through her, it was a bloody knife' and 'I threw her in the river, it was such a dreadful sight' - and yet, cleverly, Arty sings in such a disconnected, autopilot way you have to be closely paying attention to realise that this isn't just another song of love and innocence. Like the song and the singer the backing track is a fascinating mixture of what the lovely soaring melody and what the haunting lyrics are telling us: there's some sweet guitar pickings, a chiming glockenspiel and a tempo caught somewhere between relaxed and indifferent; however there's also something not-quite-right about the arrangement which is hard to put your finger on, a combination of the single, held, unmoving note from the strings that sounds out of place amongst such flowing beauty and a sadly barely-heard pedal steel part from the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia (who was reportedly a bit miffed at not being able to play the part he wanted to play - and at not being able to hear it on playback!) Paul Simon crops up for the first of two times on this album, singing a quiet harmony part on the last verse and chorus (which my ears can only hear on the final line 'her name was Rose Connelly'). What's interesting is how many of the ingredients of the 'old' Simon and Garfunkel sound are her - the high production values, the folk song feeling, even Paul Simon - and yet the recipe and the way everything is 'cooked' couldn't sound more different. A small triumph for a singer desperately in search of a new sound.
Alas Van Morrison's 'I Shall Sing' is the one moment on the album that takes things easy - z little too easy to be obvious. A song not at all characteristic of either Arty or Van's main body of work, it's basically a mock-Eurovision entry with the singer so happy he can't do anything but sing and apparently can't think of much to sing apart from 'la la la la la la'. Garfunkel slightly changed the original, switching it from a kind of cod-reggae feel that wouldn't really have suited into a more 'latin' style with a bit of a swing (apparently at session drummer Jim Gordon's suggestion, so any success for the song should really go to him). Saxophone player Joules Broussard is the track's other star, turning in a delightful riff that he revealed later he'd 'nicked' from a similar part he'd played on a Carlos Jobim session; the result is that Arty suddenly sounds as if he's 'borrowed' the Muscle Shoals ambience his ex-partner had used so well on the 'Rhymin' Simon' LP (recorded at the same time as 'Angel Clare' and released a few months earlier). The result is fun, but frivolous, a song that's delightfully daft but not quite delightfully daft to be interesting. Frankly, at only 60 words minus the 'la la las' (and an awful lot of repetition within those 60 words) 'I Shall Sing' doesn't feel quite substantial enough to deserve a place on the album, although it is at least played and sung well and arguably improves on the original.
Randy Newman's 'Old Man' is the darkest song on the album and proves what a good singer Arty is when he's pushed - a lesser vocalist would really have struggled to have just the right mix of earnestness and gravity in his voice. Randy must have been in a rotten mood when he wrote it as it follows the narrator going back to his village to give one of his 'elders' a piece of his mind; that no one loves him, no one even likes him and he's going to die lonely and un-noticed. We're never told exactly who the 'old man' is or what he's done to the narrator but there's a definite hint in the song that its someone the narrator knows well and has suffered under for a long time ('You taught me not to believe that lie'), suggesting that the 'old man' is his father. There's an even stronger hint that the 'old man' might not have long for this Earth either, in which case this song's kiss off line 'don't cry old man - everybody dies' sounds like the nastiest thing he could possibly have said, sticking the knife in even after the apparently uncaring, unfeeling 'old man' has shown his true emotional, fragile colours. Like 'Willow Garden' the arrangement of the song is low key, concentrating more on Arty's controlled seething anger rather than the high drama of the track and Peter Matz's string part is again judged perfectly - it's there and it swells just when you'd expect it to, but it's a backdrop rather than getting in the way of the song or telling us too directly what to think. I'm not sure if I'd ever place this deeply unusual one-off as a highlight of the Art Garfunkel catalogue - it's so unlike all the other songs in it that it rather stands alone - but I'm mighty impressed that the singer gave such a radical song a try and that he copes with it as well as he does. Not the sort of song I'd go out of my way to listen to repeatedly, but I'd much prefer Garfunkel stretch himself with songs like this than go through the motions as he does on so many of his other albums.
Side one ends with the medley 'Feuilles-Oh' and the wonderfully descriptively titled 'Do Spacemen Pass Dead Souls On Their Way To The Moon?' The answer seems to be yes, with the angelic 'Earth' bound folk song 'Feuilles Oh' setting the scene of a happy go lucky planet without any cares and the brief middle eight of 'Spacemen' hinting at darker, troubled times in space (and man's future?) Garfunkel loved both the folk tune and the Bach piece 'Spacemen' is based on (it's the Christmas Oratorio Choral N 33' for anyone who cares such things although after struggling to play his music on the piano for a number of years ago I long ago came to the conclusion that Bach was an excellent mathematician who didn't know the first thing about turning musical ideas into 'proper' pieces with emotional impact, setting up more arbitrary rules than the Spice Girls). As we've already seen, this version of 'Feuilles-Oh' isn't quite up to the Simon and Garfunkel unfinished original and Arty badly needs a harmony vocal instead of tackling most of the song alone, but like the duo's 'Benedictus' (a similar traditional song chosen by Arty for the pair's second album) the song has a natural graceful beauty that sounds right somehow in his capable hands. Like much of the album the song is darker than you might expect given the peaceful setting: the lyrics (sung here in French but originally in Creole) translate as the decidedly un-peaceful 'Oh leaves, save my life, I am in misery! Little me is sick, I run to the house of my spiritual healer. If he's a good one, he'll save my life'. Once again a song on this album sounds pretty but beneath the surface beats a deep and dark heart if you're prepared to look closely enough. 'Spacemen' cuts in about 1:45 into the song and Art's wife Linda's lyrics adds a few digs at modern day Western practitioners of medicine: 'Willie works as the garden man, he plants trees, he burns leaves, he makes money for himself'. I'm not quite sure why he thinks to himself about spacemen passing dead souls on the way to the moon after making money from medicine but my take on this song is that mother nature's magical herbal cures, provided for free to anyone who needs them, have become corrupted by the Capitalist world's demands to make money. As a result, only rich sick people can afford to get healed when nature originally planned for the best democracy possible. The result is a fascinating medley, one that sounds scrumptious but actually comes from a dark and nasty place. Again, I'd never claim this to be the best song(s) Garfunkel ever recorded but the way that the two songs work together on contrasts (a la the 'innocent' Scarborough Fair' and 'war-like 'On The Side Of A Hill') is a clever conceit that shows how much Garfunkel thought about this album. I'm rather glad that this album isn't completely taken up with songs like this one, but I still take my critic's hat off to him for trying something so unsafe and ambitious.
Side two begins with the first album highlight, Jimmy Webb's 'All I Know'. Like most of Arty's over hits it's a passionate love song, but this one is far from being a drippy ballad. The pair of lovers in the song are far from innocent and romantically carried away - they're away they rub each other up the wrong way, that both still carry the 'bruises' inflicted by the other (though whether physical or merely emotional is never made clear) and that the 'plans' the narrator had (presumably for marriage) have 'fallen through' due to her unreasonable behaviour. But for all that, for all the confusion and turmoil going on in his head they still love each other and that's 'all I know'. Despite the song's many attempts to balance out the many, many reason why this relationship shouldn't work out you sense that the narrator has inevitably made his mind up; that 'I love you' is enough reason to go through all the other hassle. Arguably Webb's cleverest set of lyrics read like a haiku or perhaps as Aesop fable, strictly structured and compact with part of one line often being repeated in the next ('I bruise you, you bruise me, we both bruise so easily, too easily to let it show, I love you and that's all I know'). English major Garfunkel clearly revels in the deeper meaning he has to convey and his vocal is another of his best, effortlessly finding the halfway house between being soppy and in love and trying to think with his head. Larry Knechtel is the other star, providing a piano part that has the same slow-build feel as 'Bridge', although the final realisation when it comes is gentler and less OTT than the final soaring notes on 'Bridge'. With lyrics that make for a neat match with the two key relationships in his life at that time (with Paul on the one hand: 'endings always come too fast' and soon-to-be-wife Linda on the other, with lyrics reflecting their turbulent relationship), this is clearly a key song for Arty and it's the beginning of a relationship with Art's second-biggest musical partner after Paul Simon (in all the pair record in total about three album's worth of records together, just two less than the S+G canon - all of 'The Animals' Christmas', almost all of 'Watermark' and occasional songs on every other Garfunkel album up till 2002). A deserved top ten hit in America (the song peaked at #9), Garfunkel's solo career deservedly started with a commercial bang. You can also hear an alternate, more acoustic earlier version of the song on the Garfunkel compilations 'Up Till Now' (1993) and 'Singer' (2012), which doesn't quite get the flavour or the majesty of the song right just yet but is a fascinating insight into how Garfunkel slowly developed this album and pieced it all together.
However for me 'Mary Was An Only Child' is even better. I love most of the songs by sadly neglected songwriters Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood (along with Jorge Milchberg) but this song - nominated by Paul Simon after hearing that his old partner was looking for material to cover - is one of their best. This song is about people's abilities to transcend the backgrounds they come from and Mary - a lonely only child who had 'no friends at all' and was 'born in a trailer, wretched and poor' - overcomes all the obstacles in her life to 'shine like a gem in a five and dime store' as the memorable metaphor at the heart of the song puts it. The use of the word 'Mary' and the references to seeing 'Jesus' anywhere (the first use of the name since the controversial use in 'Mrs Robinson' by the way) instantly puts the listener in mind of the Virgin Mary - born to a similarly lowly birth, she was still chosen for greater things by God and adds to the song's feeling that anything is possible for anyone, no matter their class of birth. However the setting is surely contemporary: Mary's company comes from 'famous faces pinned to the wall', a poetic way of describing newspaper clippings and because of her lowly birth Mary assumed these rich, successful people are somehow 'different' to her' even though the narrator clearly admires her more than any celebrity. This song is arguably more relevant today than when it was written, with our modern obsession with celebs and the idea that anyone can become a 'star' simply by being an exaggerated version of themselves on a reality TV programme. All this is accompanied by a lovely, folky melody that rises and falls in time with the lyrics - sadly it's about the only time Garfunkel does become quite so 'folky' - a shame as he clearly had an ability for the genre. The musical setting is superb, too, full of sparkling acoustic guitars (one of them played by Paul), all bouncing off each other in quiet solidarity and the several multi-layered Art Garfunkels sound both reverential and concerned, like a Jewish choir at a synagogue despite the Christian setting of the lyrics. Jack Schroer's saxophone deserves special praise too, trying over and over to find the groove when all it can offer is a sad, mournful sigh before picking itself up for a virtuoso performance by the end of the solo, the sound of Mary finding her niche in life at last despite everything holding her back. Despite the low-key settings and the fact this song is surrounded by two of the noisier songs on the album, 'Mary Was An Only Child' 'shines like a gem in a five and dime store', an unexpected find on an album full of such theatricality and one of my top three Art Garfunkel recordings (the others both appear on 2002's 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed'...) Paul Simon should have picked his partners' songs more often!
The quiet acoustic strumming then cross-fades into 'Woyaya', a song made famous by the African band Osibisa (and proof that Paul Simon's 'discovery' of Ladysmith Black Mombazo' wasn't quite the first in Western culture). A simple song with an uplifting message, 'Woyaya' (a word without a Western meaning - the closest is either a shrugging 'Que Sera Sera' or a sighing 'Oh Yeah' depending which translator you use) wonders out loud how the narrator will ever get through a difficult patch in their lives, before remembering than they got through all their other ones to date and they can get through this one too. 'We are going, heaven knows where we are going' soon turns into 'we will get there, heaven knows how but we'll get there' by the end of the song. The nursery rhyme feel of the song is accentuated by a St Mary's children's choir who suddenly arrive by the end of the track, which pushes the recording dangerously close to twee' territory, but for the most part this is another likeable song with an intriguing arrangement, full of balalaikas and a 'charango' (the African equivalent of the lute - somebody should buy Sting one for his birthday). For me, though, Art's vocal is the weakest on the album - he sounds unsure whether to embrace the world-weariness of the song or the optimism and doesn't really convey either. Such a repetitive song really needs a dynamic performance to keep the listener's attention and build at just the right times, something Arty usually excels at, but here, he sounds like he never fully 'gets' this song. Ah well, the tone of that voice is still gorgeous.
The handling of folk tune 'Barbara Allen' is another unusual idea. The original Simon and Garfunkel recording of this song in 1966 is a real folkies delight: twin voices, a sole acoustic guitar and a feel that you've been flushed back in time about a century. This solo re-recording is a much more progressive, modernist beast, with Arty and guest vocalist Dorothy Morrison singing a capella to a particularly loud orchestra. The effect is...strange, as if Arty's been listening to too many Pentangle albums (making the old sound contemporary) and missing the point. This modern and rather atonal reading of a folk song as old as the hills may be a good idea on paper, but trying to sit through it is like hearing the Spice Girls sing The Beatles: it's simply the wrong fit and an idea that should have been strangled at birth. So far 'Angel Clare' has had good taste in the way it challenges our preconceptions, doing so subtly and making us think about what's really going on behind the veneer in each song; here, though, this tale about a man pining for the innocent maiden he'll never see again on his death-bed isn't so much an updating of a timeless story as butchering an old classic just for the sake of it. The folk tune clearly had some calling for Garfunkel - you don't record a song twice and in two such different ways unless you really want to - so it's curious that he seems to so blatantly miss the point of this song: this is a world where emotions are hidden, where the real tragedy of the song is that Barbara Allen can never really grieve for her love in public because it wouldn't be seemly - instead their relationship is a private affair only the two of them can know. Arty, though, sounds as if he's auditioning for some tuneless musical and loses his usual poise and grace (perhaps he's trying to compete with the more soulful Dorothy, whose vocals aren't bad, just mis-cast, in the same way that Paul Simon gets blown off the stage by the louder vocals of Phoebe Snow on 'Gone At Last' in 1975). All in all, easily the weakest track on the album and a bit of a mistake.
The album then closes with 'Another Lullaby', a second Jimmy Webb song that carries off the same trick to 'All I Know' by weighing up peace and serenity against a coming storm. It's not the words that make babies drift off to sleep when you sing lullabies to them but the dreamy tone of the voice, something Jimmy Webb seems to have instinctively understood as the narrator in this song sings lulls his baby off to dreamland by singing out all his fears and admitting to the infant just how dangerous the world he lives in is. The night is dark, the wind is wild, the rain falls, the windows weep, the snow is falling, the trees are bare, the waves are angry, 'the North train cries' and there are ghosts 'outside the door' - in short not the optimum conditions for getting infants off to the land of nod. These natural phenomenon are clearly metaphors for more dangerous things going on, however (and the references to first the train and then the ghost is interesting - have the infants' parents died in a train crash, with the baby too young to understand what sea change his life has just gone through unknowingly?) The parents' statement that they will 'stand beside your bed', protecting come what may, is a strong emotional statement to make and just about makes up for all the repeated attempts to 'go to sleep' etc. Arty copes much better with this song, managing to inject the song with just enough dreamlike awe and earthbound dread to make the sentiments work. Listen out for Arty singing at his deepest for the word 'cries' about two minutes in, arguably the lowest note he reaches on any of his recordings! The result is a song that isn't quite as special or as tailor-made as 'All I Know' but 'Lullaby' is still a strong composition expertly handled and the feeling that the song isn't quite what it seems at first (a lullaby is exactly the sort of thing critics must have been expecting Art to sing on his first solo album, albeit not quite one like this) makes it a good fit for this album of giving people something deeper if they dig beneath the surface.
So there we have it. We are now halfway through our 'Art Garfunkel' reviews, three-quarters of the way through our total Simon and Garfunkels and two-thirds of the way through our complete total of reviews across the whole of this site (we will get there, heaven knows how we will get there - but get there we will!)
'Angel Clare' may not be the finest in any of these three categories and yet there's a reason fans regard it so highly and why so many critics were more impressed than they expected on release. Art Garfunkel could have taken the easy way out but he didn't, exploring his voice and replacing the counterpoint of Paul Simon's vocals with songs that have hidden layers of meaning - effectively replacing the ideas of two singers in harmony but going in different directions with a singer 'covering up' for the darkness of a lot of the material. Like Paul's first album, it's surprising how quickly you stop missing the other singer and yet there still feels like there's something missing compared to the 'duo' LPs: both 'Angel Clare' and 'Paul Simon' lack the consistency of their old work together, the pair's abilities to bring out the best in each other and the sense that the albums offer something no other artist could give. All that said, though, 'Angel Clare' was worth the headaches and aborted starts: Art Garfunkel gets his own voice away from Simon and Garfunkel and away, even, from the 'songs of innocence' solo spots Paul used to give him on the pair's albums. The result is an album with more and better layers than anyone would have been expecting and the 'problem' with this record lies - the duff track one and nine apart - both with the fact that Art 'disguised' the twists in this album so well that few people seem to have noticed and that he never again took on quite as sophisticated and multi-layered a collection of songs as he does here. There are more enjoyable Garfunkel albums, arguably even better Garfunkel albums, but Angel Clare's heart is in the right place - he just says the wrong things sometimes.