Monday, 3 April 2017
S/G "20 Greatest Hits"
(Sony, August 1991)
Wednesday Morning 3AM/The Sound Of Silence/Homeward Bound/Kathy's Song/I Am A Rock/For Emily Wherever I May Find Her/Scarborough Fair-Canticle/59th Bridge Street Song (Feelin' Groovy/7 O'Clock News-Silent Night/A Hazy Shade Of Winter/El Condor Pasa/Mrs Robinson/America/At The Zoo/Old Friends/Bookends Theme/Cecilia/The Boxer/Bridge Over Troubled Water/Song For The Asking
"Time! Time! Time! See what's become of me?"
An unusual compilation this which, despite the title, isn't really about the hits at all: there's no 'Fakin' It' for example, or 'My Little Town' or - well you get the picture. Even treating this album like the other more album-track-compilation friendly sets, though, this one seem highly random: no 'He Was My Brother', no 'Richard Cory', no 'Patterns', no 'Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall', not even 'Keep The Customer Satisfied'. Instead we get filler material like 'Wednesday Morning 3AM' and 'Song For The Asking' , which make for particularly weak opening and closing songs. The tacky packaging, with a most peculiar shot of the duo at their Central Park reunion (that makes Art looks as if he's about to throw up) doesn't help matters much either. There are far better best-ofs out there, even cheap ones.
"Paul Simon's Concert In The Park"
(Warner Brothers, November 1991)
CD One: The Obvious Child/The Boy In The Bubble/She Moves On/Kodachrome/Born At The Right Time/Train In The Distance/Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard/I Know What I Know/The Cool Cool River/Bridge Over Troubled Water/Proof
CD Two: The Coast/Graceland/You Can Call Me Al/Still Crazy After All These Years/Loves Ne Like A Rock/Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes/Hearts and Bones/Late In The Evening/America/The Boxer/Cecilia/The Sound Of Silence
"These are the days of miracle and wonder - the way the camera follows us in slow mo, the way we look to us all - so don't cry, baby, don't cry"
Now this is how concert albums should be made, with Paul's most exciting and vibrant album of his long career delivered with spectacle, songs, special guest musicians from across the length and breadth of his career and an awful lot of drummers. Like the S and G reunion from a decade before, this is another free 'local concert' recorded before almost as large a crowd of music-lovers in Central Park. Unlike that album though Paul is both firmly in charge, without having to compromise to Arty's wishes, and in the mood to have fun, celebrating his back catalogue in the company of a group of sympathetic musicians and well-wishing fans. Many of his best songs are here covering a wide range of time: five Simon and Garfunkel songs, seven from the 1970-1983 years, the better songs from 'Graceland' and best of all six from his recent masterpiece release 'The Rhythm The Saints' which sound so different here, sounding like 'complete' songs now that Paul isn't fitting lyrics to established rhythm tracks but letting the compositions breathe as finished emotional works of art. The whole is a sublime meeting of all the different Paul Simons: the troubled troubadour of the earlier years, the thoughtful singer-songwriter of the 1970s and the world music aficionado of the 1980s all together, performed by a mammoth multi-cultural band who are all perfectly chosen and somehow manage to juggle every single one of those elements and offering a gorgeous new whole that sounds quite unlike any other album out there, heavy on the drumming and big on the loving.
The opening moment of 'The Obvious Child', Paul dwarfed by the Grupo Cultural Olodum percussion band (who sound so much more vibrant live than they did on record) is a hard moment to top, but Paul manages it anyway with several highlights across the set: a lively, angry, restless 'Boy In The Bubble' that knocks spots off 'Graceland' and merges an oh so West Coast bass solo with an oh so East Africa accordion solo; a sweet 'Born At The Right Time' all the better for the emotion pouring out of Paul's voice; a gorgeous reflective 'Train In The Distance' that finally slows the concert down after one of the most energetic half hours in the AAA collection; a powerful 'Cool Cool River' that leads to a spine-tingling peak of outrage and cymbal crashes, human and hurting and oh so different to the 'serious' version heard on 'Saints'; a never-ending 'Proof' that ends with solos from every percussion instrument you've ever heard of and lots you probably haven't; a monster jam at the end of 'Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes' that takes a full five extra minutes to get back in it's shoe-box; an oh so sweet and fragile 'Hearts and Bones', alone with an acoustic guitar that sounds so unbearably poignant after so much raucous noise; a final encore of 'The Sound Of Silence' that's never sounded sadder or more alone, with 'just' Paul on stage and some 500,000 people in the park hanging on every word. Practically everything at this live show works (only a slightly timid 'Boxer', a thrownaway over-gospelled 'Loves Me Like A Rock' and a 'Bridge' that's powerful but not as radically different and gorgeous as the one on 'Live Rhymin' let the side down - and not by much compared to other live records), on what must surely be one of the top ten AAA live recordings of them all.
It was a cloudy day. 'Rhythm Of The Saints' hadn't sold as well as it deserved. Paul's Graceland band in 1987 were, in truth, pretty hopeless the last time out. They thought there was going to be a thunderstorm. And instead it's a beautiful night in New York City. Also recorded as a TV concert (but strangely not out on DVD yet - sign the petition if you feel as strongly about this as 'we' do!), but fun as this show is to watch with multi-instrumentalist musicians endlessly running around to swap instruments it's the soundtrack that matters. We don't often say this about AAA live albums but you need to own this record, the high point and peak of Paul Simon's 'second' career. Sadly in many ways it's also a 'last hurrah' - by the time Paul returns he'll be promoting a troubled and doomed-to-failure musical that will shut after just a few shows, critically slaughtered. Hard to believe after hearing him at the peak of his powers here. The only thing missing is Art Garfunkel, who by coincidence happens to share a birthday with this album (it came out on his 50th in fact: was the plan originally to release it on Paul's a few weeks earlier?)
"The Definitive Simon and Garfunkel"
(Sony, November 1991)
Wednesday Morning 3AM/The Sound Of Silence/Homeward Bound/Kathy's Song/I Am A Rock/For Emily Wherever I May Find Her/Scarborough Fair-Canticle/The 59th Bridge Street Song (Feelin' Groovy)/7 O'Clock News-Silent Night/A Hazy Shade Of Winter/El Condor Pasa/Mrs Robinson/America/At The Zoo/Old Friends/Bookends/Cecilia/The Boxer/Bridge Over Troubled Water/Song For The Asking
"What a dream I had, pressed in organdy, clothed in clinoline of sunken burgandy"
The first Simon and Garfunkel compilation of the CD era, this one is an 'old friend' - a big seller that turns up a lot in second hand record fairs and charity shops with two separate issues featuring the same photograph of the duo in the studio in either white or tinted blue. It's an improvement on what came before, without really coming close to the longer sets to come, extending a typically 40-odd minute vinyl compilation to an extra quarter hour which is good, but still leaving 25 odd minutes of a CD running time empty, which isn't. The songs are a sensible if predictable selection, missing fan favourites like 'He Was My Brother' 'Anji' and 'Patterns' but it does at least include most of the band's hits ('Fakin' It' and 'My Little Town' being the exceptions). The set is also i the 'correct' chronological order, which is a good idea until you come to the news-filled cover of 'Silent Night', a brave choice which sounds more than a little out of place in the middle of the set. Be warned, too, that both 'Kathy's Song' and 'For Emily' are live recordings taped during the 1983 reunion in Central Park, something the sleevenotes don't make clear (and which seems pretty pointless - these are perhaps the two best recordings made that night but neither come close to matching the originals). Not bad then, but not that good either and certainly not definitive.
"Paul Simon 1964-1993" (Box Set)
(Warner Brothers, September 1993)
CD One: Leaves That Are Green ('Songbook' Version)/The Sound Of Silence/Kathy's Song (Live)/America/Cecilia/El Condor Pasa/The Boxer/Mrs Robinson/Bridge Over Troubled Water (Demo)/Bridge Over Troubled Water/The Breaklup/Hey Schoolgirl/My Little Town/Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard/Peace Like A River/Mother and Child Reunion/Congratulations/Duncan ('Live Rhymin' Version)/American Tune
CD Two: Loves Me Like A Rock/Tenderness/Kodochrome/Gone At Last/Take Me To The Mardi Gras/St Judy's Comet/Something So Right/Still Crazy After All These Years/Have A Good Time/Jonah/How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns/50 Ways To Leave Your Lover/Slip Slidin' Away/Late In The Evening/Hearts and Bones/Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War/The Late Great Johnny Ace
CD Three: The Boy In The Bubble/Graceland/Under African Skies/That Was Your Mother/Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes/You Can Call Me Al/Homeless/Spirit Voices/The Obvious Child/Can't Run But/Thelma/Further To Fly/She Moves On/Born At The Right Time/The Cool Cool River ('Central Park' Version)/The Sound Of Silence ('Central Park' Version)
"Sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears!"
Pricey box sets were all the rage in the 1990s and Paul Simon was as deserving as anybody, with all sorts of unheralded classics from his older albums made available on CD - some of them for the first time. Any set including songs from Paul's excellent set of early solo albums should have been a winner - so why doesn't this set join our legions of classic AAA boxes from the same period? Well, Warner Brothers' set is largely an exercise in money-making unworthy of the star they're trying to promote. The box itself is cheap and shoddy, easily open to breakages and tears while the CDs don't even come with pictures inside the boxes. The track selection mainly concentrates on the albums where Warner Brothers already own the rights, so there is almost a complete selection of tracks from Paul's two most recent albums 'Graceland' and 'Rhythm Of The Saints' and barely anything from all five Simon and Garfunkel records or the classic string of solo records from 1972's 'Paul Simon' to 1983's 'Hearts and Bones'. Given that this set sold for such a lot, you'd also expect there to have been four discs in here, as per most sets, rather than just three: goodness knows there's easily another 80 minutes of 'essential' Paul Simon that isn't here (this is even worse on the two-disc version 'The Paul Simon Anthology' released at the same time which cuts discs one and two down in size and yet still features 'Graceland' and 'Saints' near-complete). Even the booklet, though it features a rare interview with Paul and some lovely unseen photographs, doesn't feel quite 'special' enough to deserve the price tag. And why oh why did the marketing department let through a set that effectively celebrates the '29th anniversary' of Paul's solo career (which they've counted as starting from 'Wednesday Morning 3AM' even though the set includes 1957's Tom and Jerry song 'Hey Schoolgirl') when they could have waited a year and made this set a '30th anniversary' one? This set gets far too many things wrong for something that's so obviously made for a 'luxury' market and for fans who care about this sort of thing.
That said, especially at the time, there were still lots of good reasons for owning this set. There were four tracks here that back in 1993 had either never been released before or were impossible to get hold of. 'Hey Schoolgirl', for starters, makes its long delayed appearance on an officially sanctioned Simon or Garfunkel set and was good to hear at last (even if by rights it should be at the very start, not twelve tracks in as a 'bridge over troubled water' between the S and G and solo years). The 1972 comedy piece 'The Breakup', which really was intended as a joke by the way, shows a whole new playful side to Simon and Garfunkel as Paul produces Arty from the control room and tries to get his partner to sound 'more serious' and 'slip in a bit about how I'll be doing a college tour this fall!' The pair have never sounded more like 'old friends' than here. There's also a quite gorgeous Paul-only demo of 'Bridge' as the writer originally intended it, as a sweet but muted two-verse song heavily in a gospel vein and you can entirely see why Arty was keen for Paul to sing this on the record too, in a lovely falsetto voice. Surprisingly there's only one solo rarity which comes as late as the 'Saints' period with 'Thelma' the unlucky track that got left behind. It is perhaps not quite up to the best of that LP's standards but Paul was on such a role in the early 1990s that even this song seems like a minor classic, with a typical mix of groovy rhythms and fragmented poetic lyrics wrapped around a poppier chorus than normal. It's good too to have a couple of the live recordings here from different solo LPs and the non-album single 'Slip Slidin' Away', but even with all that taken into account this set should have been half the price and made with a little bit more love, care and attention.
"The Paul Simon Anthology"
(Warner Brothers, '1993')
CD One: The Sound Of Silence/Cecilia/El Condor Pasa/The Boxer/Mrs Robinson/Bridge Over Troubled Water/Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard/Peace Like A River/Mother and Child Reunion/American Tune/Loves Me Like A Rock/Kodochrome/Gone At Last/Still Crazy After All These Years/Something So Right/50 Ways To Leave Your Lover/Slip Slidin' Away/Late In The Evening/Hearts and Bones/Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War
CD Two: The Boy In The Bubble/Graceland/Under African Skies/That Was Your Mother/Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes/You Can Call Me Al/Homeless/Spirit Voices/The Obvious Child/Can't Run But/Thelma/Further To Fly/She Moves On/Born At The Right Time/The Cool Cool River ('Central Park' Version)/The Sound Of Silence ('Central Park' Version)
"Though you're nearer your destination the more you keep slip slidin' away"
A mini-version of the box set, which seems a bit pointless given that this set is on two discs and the original only ran for three, but it was at least a lot cheaper and more like half the price than two-thirds. Sadly, too, it's the more interesting material that gets the push, with the first two discs squeezed together and almost all the 1972-1983 material dropped to make room for an almost complete run of the monstrosity that is 'Graceland' and which leaves the Simon and Garfunkel years (which most people still rate as the most interesting) reduced to just six tracks. In a sense this is the 'European' version of the original set's 'American' appeal, missing out the songs that had only been a hit in Paul's homeland but as such seems even more like a glorified best-of than the original with less album tracks and even less rarities, with only the rather sweet 'Bridge' demo and 'Rhythm Of The Saints' outtake 'Thelma' intact. There are better Paul Simon sets out there - including the three disc version, if you could afford it at the time.
Art Garfunkel "Up Till Now"
(Columbia, October 1993)
Cryin' In The Rain/All I Know/Just Over The Brooklyn Bridge/The Sound Of Silence/The Breakup/Skywriter/The Decree/It's All In The Game/One Less Holiday/Since I Don't Have You/Two Sleepy People/Why Worry?/All My Love's Laughter
"There should be laughter after pain, there should be sunshine after pain"
When is a compilation not a compilation? When It's 'Up Til' Now', a random assortment of one old established classic (though thankfully it's the rarer acoustic version of 'Sound Of Silence' this time), two modern solo favourites, two r-recordings (of 'All I Know' and 'All My Love's Laughter'), one track from 'The Animals' Christmas' (which makes no sense out of context), one recent TV theme tune ('Over The Brooklyn Bridge'), a 'comedy' Simon and Garfunkel moment from 1972 released simultaneously with a Paul Simon box set and no less than six previously unheard songs (half of them new, half of them outtakes from earlier Garfunkel records). This uneasy hybrid does not a classic compilation make and it certainly does look like Columbia patting Art on the back and telling him that he wouldn't be making a full album this year (his last being five years old by this point) but they weren't going to ignore him entirely.
However you'd be wrong. The 'Columbia president' Arty thanks on the back sleeve for the 'concept' is not a Columbia record label boss (where Arty has by now spent much of his life) but Mitchell Cohen, a professor at Columbia University known for his collection of political essays (and, quite possibly, one of Arty's old lecturers during his time there studying architecture: in retrospect no wonder Arty, who has always said how much he loved those years as a student, signed with a record label also named Columbia!) Simon and Garfunkel's thoughtful branch of rebellion and revolution make a natural pairing with many of his own views and - though both men have remained quite on the matter - it seems quite likely that they'd have become friends. Together with the sweet album cover (half of dad Arty cradling half his new-born son James - the cover wraps around the back sleeve to make a 'whole') it seems that the high-falluting concept was, this time, more about 'before' and 'after' shots of Garfunkel's life. On those terms this album makes more sense: we get the innocence of the original 'Sound Of Silence' before the two singers know anything about what will happen paired with 'The Breakup' when the pair are far enough away from their legacy to laugh at it for the first time. We get 'All I Know', the launch of Art's solo career, not as a song of hopeful longing but weary hoping, which isn't quite the same thing at all, together with an older, slower reflection of a 'Watermark' song, both recorded in 1989. We also get outtakes from album sessions for records like 'Scissors Cut' as if we're getting a glimpse at an 'alternate' Art Garfunkel timeline where hit albums are represented by unknown songs. I still don't know why we get 'The Decree' from 'Animals' Christmas', however or where most of the 'new' songs fit in mind so a bit of an on-sleeve explanation would have been nice! (though the theme of 'Why Worry?' that life comes in cycles makes for a bit of thematic sense).
Unfortunately, though, this concept doesn't make for easy listening and a majority of Garfunkel fans will have bought this album hoping for a more straightforward compilation without quite realising that it's meant to be 'Art' in more than one sense of the word. The sad fact remains as well that a lot of these tracks remain obscure for a reason: the two re-recordings are intriguing, with Art singing lower and slower, but can't match the pathos of the original versions; 'Brooklyn Bridge' is nice but at only a minute long it's at least three too short to properly be called a song; Jimmy Webb's breathy 'Skywriter' sounds like all the past breathy Jimmy Webb piano ballads; 'It's All In The Game' is slow pop pretty but also pretty forgettable; Stephen Bishop's 'Scissor's Cut' outtake 'One Less Holiday' has some lovely words but not much of a tune and was probably the right track to drop from the album; the jazzy 'Two Sleepy People' from the soundtrack for forgotten film 'A League Of Their Own' (about a female baseball team) is simply horrid and one of the worst songs Art has ever recorded, faceless and vacuous and making poor use of his talents. Only the new duet between Art and James Taylor on Everly Brothers duet 'Cryin' In The Rain' and a quite gorgeous ballad take on Dire Straits' neglected classic 'Why Worry?' are really worth going out of your way to own and both have turned up on other easier to find compilations since (plus the genuinely hilarious 'The Breakup' if you hadn't bought that yet, though putting spoken word in the middle of an album of music never works as an idea!) An album to admire, rather than to love, this record doesn't really offer that much of a sense of where Arty is 'up to now' and few of these revived recordings are worth making such a fuss about (a full LP of more contemporary cover songs would have been a much better bet on the back of 'Why Worry?'). Better that this album exists in some form than not I suppose, but if you couldn't find it then you'll find it impossible today, but why worry now?
"Old Friends" (Box Set)
(Columbia/Legacy, November 1997)
CD One: Bleeker Street (Demo)/The Sound Of Silence (Acoustic)/The Sun Is Burning/Wednesday Morning 3AM/He Was My Brother/Sparrow/Peggy-O/Benedictus/Somewhere They Can't Find Me/We've Got A Groovey Thing Goin'/Leaves That Are Green/Richard Cory/I Am A Rock/The Sound Of Silence (Electric)/Homeward Bound/The Blues Run The Game/Kathy's Song/April Come She Will/Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall
CD Two: Patterns/Cloudy/The Dangling Conversation/Scarborough Fair-Canticle/59th Bridge Street Song (Feelin' Groovy)/For Emily Wherever I May Find Her/7 O'Clock News-Silent Night/A Hazy Shade Of Winter/At The Zoo/A Poem On The Underground Wall (Live)/Red Rubber Ball (Live)/Blessed (Live)/Anji (Live)/A Church Is Burning (Live)/Fakin' It/Save The Life Of My Child/America/You Don't Know Where Your Interest Lies/Punky's Dilemma/Comfort and Joy/Star Carol
CD Three: Mrs Robinson/Old Friends-Bookends/Overs (Live)/A Most Peculiar Man (Live)/Bye Bye Love (Live)/The Boxer/Baby Driver/Why Don't You Write Me?/Feuilles-Oh/Keep The Customer Satisfied/So Long Frank Lloyd Wright/Song For The Asking/Cecilia/El Condor Pasa/Bridge Over Troubled Water/The Only Living Boy In New York/Hey Schoolgirl/Black Slacks (Live)/That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine (Live)/My Little Town
"A time it was and what a time it was, it was...A time of innocence, a time of confidences"
At last somebody at Columbia realises that in the CD age they can release more than just a half-hour material and the pile of Simon and Garfunkel compilations and re-releases starts growing hugely from this point onwards. Sitting here in 2016, with so many better versions of this set around, it's faults are easy to spot: at only three hour-long running discs this set could so easily have been expanded to four full CDs containing everything that Simon and Garfunkel had ever done quite easily and several key songs are missing ('The Times They Are A -Changin' 'A Most Peculiar Man' 'The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine'). The discs are mainly in chronological order but contain some oddities, such as ending disc one with 'Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall' (which is 'orphaned' from its fellow 'Parsely Sage' 'herbs' on disc two). The packaging includes some lovely and mostly unseen photographs but only the most basic of essays, written in such a weird font printed on such a lot of colourful backgrounds that reading it from beginning to end will give you a headache the equivalent of listening to all the Tom and Jerry recordings in one go.
However at the time it wasn't just the best we had, it was the best we had by far. The only CD re-issues of the albums at the time had been the bare-bones early 1990s sort without bonus tracks and there were quite a few items released here for the first time, even if they've been released on more fuller terms in the years since. At the time though these outtakes were rather fabulous: 'Bleeker Street', a demo of a Paul Simon original taped at the very start of the 'Wednesday Morning' sessions, is exquisite and should have made the album; the sombre Jackon C Frank song 'Blues Run The Game' is better than the other covers taped during the 'Sounds Of Silence' sessions; two lovely carols (recorded, weirdly enough, around Easter 1967, between 'Parsley Sage' and 'Bookends' eras) are gorgeous and though I'm not usually a fan of AAA Christmas records this one sounds like it might have been an exception; of the studio tracks only a rather boring take of traditional tune 'Fueilles-O' (re-recorded by Arty for 'Angel Clare') disappoints. Then there's the concerts: three mini-shows of which two are now available full-length(as 'Live In New York City 1967' and 'Live 1969), but the three song show at Vermont in October 1968 (reviewed by us as a 'separate' concert) remains exclusive to this set. It's not the best, with forgettable versions of 'A Most Peculiar Man' and 'Bye Bye Love' and a rare 'Overs', a song that doesn't really work live, but is an interesting curio to own. The 'Red Rubber Ball' from the 'New York' gig is also exclusive to this set, Columbia having run out of space for the full show when they came to release the full CD and it's a good 'un, with Simon and Garfunkel in merry, silly mood. Sitting here in 2016 'Old Friends' doesn't quite seem like the box set that Simon and Garfunkel deserved and it's probably not worth your while seeking out now if you didn't buy it at the time as there are so many better sets out there (though it's nice to have it for the two Carols alone, which I'm surprised haven't come out on anything since). At the time, however, 'Old Friends' was better than anything Simon and Garfunkley we'd had before and a cause for celebration.
Art Garfunkel "Across America"
(Columbia, May 1997)
A Heart In New York/Cryin' In The Rain/Scarborough Fair-Canticle/A Poem On The Underground Wall/I Only Have Eyes For You/Homeward Bound/All I Know/Bright Eyes/El Condor Pasa/Bridge Over Troubled Water/Mrs Robinson/59th Bridge Street Song (Feelin' Groovy)/I Will/April Comes She Will/The Sound Of Silence/Grateful/Goodnight My Love
"Shadowed by the exit light his legs take their extended flight"
Cashing in on the success of the 'Old Friends' box set, Arty released his first full length album in just short of a decade. However, far from showing Garfunkel in his best light it showed him at his worst, his one and only live album showing off the new frailties in his older voice with some really below par performances you're surprised the perfectionist agreed to let through. The title 'Across America' referred to not just the tour itself but what Arty had been doing since his music and acting careers had begun to dry up: walking across his home country one town, one state at a time, in bursts since 1985. 'America' was meant to be a 'celebration' of the fact that Arty had finally achieved his goals, to the praise of much of the press when they found out, and that the singer wanted to show 'us' some of the music that had been playing in his head and the thoughts he had been thinking while he walked. Unfortunately, by the time the album was released, it had been diluted into nothing more than a 'greatest hits live' set that contained little that fans wouldn't have been expecting anyway. And a badly performed 'greatest hits' at that with Arty really struggling with some of the vocals and his backing band artificial and stilted, lacking in passion and big on twinkly cutesy synth noises. Given that Arty had long argued that Simon and Garfunkel should 'only' tour acoustically, with one guitar and two voices, it's a real shame he doesn't take his own advice here as it's those cosy and intimate song (eg 'April Comes She Will') that work best here by far.
There are, at least, a few surprises here: a cover of one of the few Paul McCartney Beatles ballads only real fans know ('I Will' from The White Album), an unexpected revival of S and G album track 'A Poem On The Underground Wall' and two new songs: John Buccino's 'Grateful', which is rather too much like every other piano-based Garfunkel ballad out there and 'Goodnight My Love', a much covered song first released in 1956 by Jesse Belvin. All these tracks are nice but none of them feel particularly 'special', while Arty's fading voice means that his versions of old favourites we've heard lots of times can't compete with earlier recordings of them. The worst casualty though has to be 'Feelin' Groovy', adpated into a duet with his then-six year old and rather shrill son James, which should have been a real 'ahhh!' moment but instead turns into an 'aaaagh!' moment (to be fair to the young lad thrust out of his comfort zone into the spotlight, Arty's duet with James Taylor - also the album producer - on 'Cryin' In The Rain' isn't any better). Along with the unlistenable 'The Animals' Christmas' this is Arty's worst record. He can do so much better than this! Oddly 'I Only Have Eyes For You' was cut from the American version of the record even though it's one of the better tracks here.
Art Garfunkel "Songs From A Parent To A Child"
(Columbia, June 1997)
Whose Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet?/Morning Has Broken/Daydream/Baby Mine/Secret O' Life/The Things We've Handed Down/You're A Wonderful One/Good Luck Charm/I Will Lasso The Moon/Dreamland/Whose Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet?/The Lord's Prayer-Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep
"Close your eyes and know you're safe with me"
Arty finally became a father for the first time at the age of 49 when his son (and double - as you can see from the album cover) James was born in 1990 (with daughter Beau following in 2005). Understandably this was a life-changing event for father Garfunkel who made a rare return to the recording studio (his first 'proper' album in nine years) to celebrate the fact. It's easy to be cruel to this well-meaning album, which is deliberately sugary and sweet, allowing all of Arty's 'cuter' instincts to come to the fore. After all, recording a bunch of nursery rhymes and children's songs is never good for any rock and roller's career and in pure career terms for someone struggling to get a record deal it seemed like career suicide. But there's a genuine-ness and a joy about this album, the awe at something Art thought he would never experience so openly in his voice, that makes it a very touching record - if not an album you'll want to play repeatedly too many times. Sadly Arty's voice has declined rapidly since his last recordings (released on the hap=-hazard album 'Up Till Now' in 1993) and it doesn't help that he's swathed the album in ever stronger and noisier synthesisers than appeared on 'Lefty' in 1988. The sound of this album, coupled with the often silly subject matters and the continuously slow tempos, is enough to drive all but Art's most committed fans out the room. But unlike the 'Some Enchanted Evening' album to come, everything here is straight from the heart and delivered with care and an awful lot of love that shines through the speakers. If nothing else it's fantastic, after so many difficult years, to report that Arty sounds truly happy and at pace with himself. On those terms at least 'Parent To A Child' is a success, albeit one that simply through its narrow line of subject matter automatically makes it less interesting than most of Arty's records for anyone who isn't one of his children.
Arty's usually pretty spot on with his traditional folk song covers but recording a version of 'Whose Gonna Shoe Your Tiny Feet?' without making you reach a sick bag was always going to be a tall ask. A slow arrangement, syrupy strings and an uncomfortable harmony part from wife Kim add up to one of the album's lesser recordings.
A spirited 'Morning Has Broken' sung in the manner of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' fares better sung with the awe of someone who was never expecting to see morning arrive. Not up to Cat Stevens' better known version perhaps, but lovely nonetheless.
John Sebastian guests on his own Lovin' Spoonful track 'Daydream' whose bouncy nowhere-to-go energy recalls 'Feelin' Groovy' (if not quite as good).
'Baby Mine', from one of Disney's greatest films 'Dumbo', should have been perfect: had it been written from a human mother to a child rather than between two elephants this song would surely have become a standard. Unfortunately adding a 'Lion King' style fake-jungle effect out of synth percussion (a mistake heard on many period recordings - cure you Elton John!) is a really bad idea and sounds very out of place on what should be prime Arty ballad territory.
James Taylor oddly doesn't guest on his own 'Secret Life' despite his long association with Arty and Garfunkel struggles to do anything with the track except try and sing it like his friend did. Nice but, like many of Taylor's songs, a little repetitive and anonymous.
Marc Cohn, championed by David Crosby for years, is the modern day's Jimmy Webb full of descriptive prose and a natural songwriter for Art to cover. 'The Things We've Handed Down' is one of the better songs on the album, concentrating less on children than on generations and the idea of genes and ethics can be passed down for years to come.
Lamont-Dozier-Holland's 'You're The Wonderful One' doesn't really suit Arty's purist voice but it does suit guest Billy Preston's gravelly growl. A bit too clappy-happy for my tastes.
Seven-year-old James Garfunkel himself stars on 'Good Luck Charm' and copes admirably well, though you sense his eighteen year old self would still have been very embarrassed by it had his friends brought it out at a birthday party. Dad sings softly in the background, content to give his lad centre stage. Harper Simon and James Garfunkel? Well there might be an age gap but it's still possible, both sons clearly have strong voices...
'I Will' is one of the prettiest Paul McCartney Beatle ballads nobody knows, rattled off in between heavier songs for 'The White Album'. The younger Garfunkel would have served it well - the older one sadly seems to be having a bit of a struggle to sing on the day of recording.
'Lasso The Moon' excited many fans when they noticed the 'Simon' writing credit, but I'm afraid it's Billy Simon - a songwriter specialising in film scores. This gently uplifting song about setting your sights higher and believing in yourself proves that Garfunkel still sounds best at singing Simon songs though on this album highlight.
Mary Chapin Carpenter's 'Dreamland' is another suitable cover, a cute floating song based around the sort of darker minor key chords Arty loved using on folk songs in the 1970s. He's in good voice on this one too.
Next up is a brief and rather pointless reprise of 'Tiny Feet' heard even slower. Of all the songs on the album I wanted to hear a reprise of, this wasn't it...
The album then ends on a rather sombre reading of 'The Lord's Prayer' which sounds as preachy and unmusical as anything on 'The Animals' Christmas', especially when Arty's wife starts warbling again. The song works better when it segues into the traditional song 'Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep' though, which is a pretty lullaby that works as a strong album closer.
The one obvious song missing from this collection is Paul's own 'St Judy's Comet', the song of love for Paul's little boy that would have suited Arty's pure and tender voice well. What is here instead will split Garfunkel's followers into those who appreciate the worth of saccharine when it's heartfelt and those who consider it torture. Art, though, had yearned to be a family man for so long that when the chance finally came it's only natural that he should want to celebrate with a self-indulgence like this; the wonder is that a good half of the album is also pretty listenable for those who don't have Arty as a dad. From a reviewer to a singer: Awwww!
Art Garfunkel "Simply The Best"
(Columbia, May 1998)
Bright Eyes/Break Away/I Believe (When I Fall In Love)/Disney Girls/Miss You Nights/When She Moved Through The Fair/Scissors Cut/Since I Don't Have You/Watermark/(What A) Wonderful World/When A Man Loves A Woman/Looking For The Right One/I Only Have Eyes For You/Crying In The Rain/Another Lullaby/99 Miles From LA/A Heart In New York/Saturday Suit/Why Worry?/Crying In My Sleep
"My love must be a kind of blind love, I can't see anyone but you..."
Despite the tacky cover this is an excellent Art Garfunkel compilation that is probably the best on the market, a mere 'Mary Was An Only Child' away from perfection. All the biggest hits you'd want are here, though some of the minor hits (such as 'I Shall Sing' and 'Second Avenue') relied on to pad out other compilations are, perhaps thankfully, absent. This instead gives more room for classic album tracks and most of the best ones are here, all showing off a fuller range of Art's vocal skills than you would normally get, from the gorgeous Crosby-Nash enhanced Californian breezy optimism of 'Break Away' to the gorgeous haze of 'She Moved Through The Fair' to the angry sorrow of 'Scissor's Cut'. There's also the two best songs from the 'Up Til' Now' compilation of 1993 in 'Why Worry?' and 'Crying In My Sleep', which will save you a fortune in tracking down that rarer CD. Some sleevenotes would have been nice and the track listing doesn't even come close to chronological order (until the last couple of songs, strangely), but it still feels like a compilation that's been made with care and the tracks largely segue together with some skill. All of which makes this the Art Garfunkel in my collection that's been the most used by far. If you haven't got the time or the patience to sit through endless Jimmy Webb compositions or to put up with the weird experiments that other compilers think they're being 'daring' by including then this is one of the two-stop places to go along with 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed' (an album that, sadly, was released after this set came out!)
"The Best Of Simon and Garfunkel"
(Columbia, November 1999)
The Sound Of Silence/Homeward Bound/I Am A Rock/The Dangling Conversation/Scarborough Fair-Canticle/59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)/A Hazy Shade Of Winter/At The Zoo/Fakin' It/Mrs Robinson/Old Friends-Bookends/The Boxer/Bridge Over Troubled Water/Cecilia/The Only Living Boy In New York/Song For Asking/El Condor Pasa/For Emily Wherever I May Find Her/America/My Little Town
"We note our place with bookmarkers that measure what we've lost"
A straightforward twenty-track single disc compilation released mainly in America (Europe will get their own version re-titled 'Tales Of New York' using the same cover, a moody black and white shot of Simon and Garfunkel hanging round some stone steps, a couple of years later). If you only want the most bare-bones S and G songs then this is a good set to get including all the band's singles (even legendary flop 'The Dangling Conversation') in the 'right' order (if you count the single releases 'For Emily' and 'America' after the duo split up). Sadly this doesn't leave much room for album tracks and the lack of singles in the early days means that the compilation is tipped heavily towards the 'Bookends' and 'Bridge' era. Still if a cheap introduction is what you're after rather than a career overview then this is a fair attempt at cutting Simon and Garfunkel's recordings back to 'essential'.
Paul Simon "Shining Like A National Guitar - Greatest Hits"
(Warner Brothers, May 2000)
Graceland/You Can Call Me Al/Mother and Child Reunion/Cool Cool River/50 Ways To Leave Your Lover/The Obvious Child/The Boy In The Bubble/Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War/Late In The Evening/Bernadette/Slip Slidin' Away/Take Me To The Mardi Gras/Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes/Still Crazy After All These Years/Kodochrome/Loves Me Like A Rock/Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard/Hearts and Bones/Trailways Bus
"My travelling companions are ghosts and empty sockets"
Hello everybody, I hope you've found this book to be your tastes so far and that it shines like a national guitar. Whatever that means: by 2000 Warner Brothers are clearly running out of potential album titles and are having to work that bit harder for ideas. So, too, does the track selection which this time tries to tell the story of Paul Simon across thirty solo years and a single disc selection running time, so it was always going to have problems. Understandably Warner Brothers spend a lot more time on the albums they own (and don't have to pay for - they bought up Paul's first three solo albums from Columbia soon after though so you wish they'd waited) but that makes for a very uneven set dominated by 'Graceland', which is a pity when there are so many more interesting Paul Simon records out there to own. There are oddities too that I really don't agree with: almost every other song from 'Hearts and Bones' deserves a place here but not the gauche and awkward 'Rene and Georgette Magritte', while 'Cool Cool River' wouldn't have been my choice from 'Rhythm Of The Saints' either. A need to promote the last Paul Simon album, oblivious of whether it fits or how good it is, also leads to the most curious selections from 'The Capeman' which really doesn't work outside the plot (or inside it even, if you're in a grumpy enough mood). The end result might well be the worst album out there with Paul Simon's name on it and one that fails to shine like a wooden guitar, never mind a national one. Paul deserved better.
"Tales From New York - The Very Best Of"
(Columbia, March 2000)
CD One: The Sound Of Silence/The Sun Is Burning/Wednesday Morning 3 AM/Peggy-O/Benedictus/He Was My Brother/We Got A Groovy Thing Goin'/Homeward Bound/I Am A Rock/Kathy's Song/April Come She Will/Leaves That Are Green/Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall/The Dangling Conversation/Scarborough Fair-Canticle/Patterns/Cloudy/For Emily Wherever I May Find Her/Save The Life Of My Child/7 O'Clock News-Silent Night
CD Two: A Hazy Shade Of Winter/59th Bridge Street Song (Feelin' Groovy)/At The Zoo/Fakin' It/Punky's Dilemma/You Don't Know Where Your Interest Lies/Mrs Robinson/Old Friends-Bookends/The Boxer/Baby Driver/Keep The Customer Satisfied/So Long Frank Lloyd Wright/Bridge Over Troubled Water/Cecilia/The Only Living Boy In New York/Bye Bye Love/Song For Asking/El Condor Pasa/America/My Little Town
"Everything's the same in fact, back in my little town"
This is the 'British' version of last year's American-only best-of set, which is weird given how much the compilation packaging and even the name insists on reminding us every five minutes that the band come from 'New York'. Had this album been released a year later you could excuse as a piece of post-9/11 solidarity, but no: we're still 18 months away from that. At 40 tracks, this set is better than average at diving into Simon and Garfunkel's canon and the track selection is pretty good (only 'Sparrow' is missing from my usual 'compilation spot-checks' test and even reunion single 'My Little Town' is here). What's more the track listing has been made with care: everything in the right order, with a sensible bit of slight tweaking to get 'Silent Night' at the end of disc one and the explosive 'A Hazy Shade Of Winter' at the start of disc two (though why 'America' has been moved to the penultimate spot is beyond me). However with minimal packaging this all seems a little bland and is rather overshadowed by the chance to own all five original Simon and Garfunkel albums for roughly the same price on 'The Collection' a few years later.
PS "On My Way, I Don't Know Where I'm Going"
(**, November 2002)
CD One: Mother and Child Reunion/Me and Julio Down By The School-Yard/Kodachrome/Something So Right/Loves Me Like A Rock/50 Ways To Leave Your Lover/Still Crazy After All These Years/Late In The Evening/Slip Slidin' Away/Hearts and Bones/Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes/The Boy In The Bubble/Graceland/You Can Call Me Al/Spirit Voices/The Cool Cool River /Adios Hermanos/Love/Hurricane Eye
CD Two: American Tune/Duncan/The Coast/Mrs Robinson/Bridge Over Troubled Water
"I seem to lean on old familiar ways"
A collection of some of Paul Simon's greatest solo songs (plus 'The Capeman'), this is one of those 'hits plus history' CDs. It's a fair career overview, especially the second half which includes some of the more unusual Paul Simon songs out there. However it's still all far from perfect: why offer us a 'bonus' live disc that only lasts twenty odd minutes when there's so much more that could have been here (and which makes a mess of the chronological order) taken just from the 'Live Rhymin' album? (A whole disc of live tracks combined with 'Concert In The Park' and the S and G live sets might have made for a worthy disc). There's also far too much from 'Graceland' at the expense of better albums, given a weird title (taken from 'Me and Julio') and a front cover where Paul Simon doesn't look much at all like Paul Simon. This CD is probably ultimately less interesting than the compilations that came before it and most certainly the longer ones that came after, on its way but without a clue where it's going. Avoid.
"Essential Simon and Garfunkel"
(Columbia, October 2003)
CD One: Wednesday Morning 3AM (Live)/Bleeker Street/The Sound Of Silence/The Leaves That Are Green (Live)/A Most Peculiar Man (Live)/I Am A Rock/Richard Cory/Kathy's Song (Live)/Scarborough Fair-Canticle/Homeward Bound/Sparrow (Live)/The 59th Bridge Street Song (Feelin' Groovy)/The Dangling Conversation/A Poem On The Underground Wall (Live)/A hazy Shade Of Winter/At The Zoo
CD Two: Mrs Robinson/Fakin' It/Old Friends/Bookends (Theme)/America/Overs (Live)/El Condor Pasa/Bridge Over Troubled Water/Cecilia/Keep The Customer Satisfied/So Long Frank Lloyd Wright/The Boxer/Baby Driver/The Only Living Boy In New York/Song For The Asking/For Emily Wherever I May Find Her (Live)/My Little Town
"A poet reads his crooked rhyme, holy holy is his sacrament, but thirty dollars pays your rent..."
Given Simon and Garfunkel released five roughly half-hour records between them in their career, plus a small handful of non album recordings and rarities, that two full-running CDs should make for the perfect length to get to know the band properly (assuming you're not the kind of fan who buys every album or rely on a thorough compilation to inspire you to do so first). However, this isn't it. Though 'Essential' does indeed include a pretty fine track selection, includes all the tracks in the 'proper' chronological order and even includes some pretty decent packaging for a relatively low budget release, there are two fairly major faults with it. One is that this set is so short: at 97 minutes this set leaves a full hour's owrth odf space across the two discs and no end of classic tracks that could have been called on to fill things out. Worse yet though, a good third of the CDs come from the previously released live recordings the duo made, with several key album tracks recorded in great detail by masterful musicians under perfectionist conditions replaced by poorly-recorded one-shot live recordings featuring Paul gamely trying to tune his guitar on stage. Though the live recordings are more than adequate, they're not exactly 'essential' and to new-comers who might not have the originals they're an insult: it's like replacing the famous version of The Beatles' 'Twist and Shout' with a poorly recorded version from Hamburg they recorded for the price of a beer. That one fact casts a long shadow over this set, but in truth the track selection is otherwise a little better than average, a little low on poor 'Wednesday Morning' perhaps but pretty much spot on in cherry-picking the later albums. It's also the first compilation to date to include all 16 charting top 40 entries, which deserves some sort of praise I suppose. The set even remembers to include the reunion single 'My Little Town' and include it in the proper place at the end of disc two, where it makes for a worthy finale. Otherwise, though, this is the weakest of all the Simon and Garfunkel compilations on the market and best avoided (though at least, unlike the 197* version, it really is Simon and Garfunkel on the cover this time!)
"PS "The Studio Recordings 1972-2000"
(**, June 2004)
CD One: Paul Simon plus bonus tracks: Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard (Demo)/Duncan (Demo)/Paranoia Blues (Demo)
CD Two: There Goes Rhymin' Simon plus bonus tracks: Let Me Live In Your City/Take Me To The Mardi-Gras (Demo)/American Tune (Demo)/Loves Me Like A Rock (Demo)
CD Three: Still Crazy After All These Years plus bonus tracks: Slip Slidin' Away (Demo)/Gone At Last (Demo)
CD Four: One-Trick-Pony plus bonus tracks: Soft Parachutes/All Because Of You/Spiral Highway/Stranded In A Limousine
CD Five: Hearts and Bones plus bonus tracks: Shelter Of Your Arms/Train In The Distance (Demo)/Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War (Demo)/The Late Great Johnny Ace (Demo)
CD Six: Graceland plus bonus tracks: Homeless (Demo)/Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes (Demo)/That Was Your Mother (Demo)
CD Seven: The Rhythm Of The Saints plus bonus tracks: Born At The Right Time (Demo)/Thelma/The Coast (Demo)/Spirit Voices (Demo)
CD Eight: The Capeman plus: Shoplifting Clothes/Born In Puerto Rico (Cast Version)/Can I Forgive Him? (Paul Simon Version)
CD Nine: You're The One plus bonus tracks: That's Where I Belong (Live)/Old (Live)/Hurricane Eye (Live)
"The perfect circle marries all beginnings and conclusions"
A sprawling if handsome box set containing all nine Paul Simon albums released to date complete with their respective bonus tracks, this is a nice set to own and is a big improvement on '1964-1993', but it still could have been so much more. Despite costing you a fortune there's no space in this set for several key recordings such as hit single 'Slip Slidin' Away' (though both the demo and B-side 'Stranded In A Limousine' are here), 'The Paul Simon Songbook' and all the live recordings among them. What is here is of course largely superb and is a welcome chance to revisit lesser known gems like 'One Trick Pony' and 'You're The One'. Though actually all the CDs had been released individually with the bonus tracks before this date, this seems a good opportunity to discuss those as they're all gathered here in one place. Paul isn't the sort of writer who changed his grand vision of songs too far from demo to finished product, so his demos aren't quite the revelation they are for other songwriters. However it's great to hear so many instances of a song that would later be given a massive big band arrangement treated to just Paul's lone voice and guitar, offering an extra level of cosyness to songs like 'Me and Julio', 'Slip Slidin' Away' or 'Born At The Right Time'. It's also fascinating to hear Paul alone on tracks traditionally sung with others: a Phoebe Snow-less 'Gone At Last', a Los Incas-less 'Duncan' or a Ladysmith Black Mambazo-minus 'Homeless' and 'Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes'. There aren't strictly any songs we haven't heard before pre-Capeman, with the 'new' recordings included on the back of 'One Trick Pony' and 'Hearts and Bones' early versions of songs that became something else or, in the case of 'Soft Parachutes', is the sweet Vietnam protest parody sung by Jonah Levin in the film ('Rhythm' outtake 'Thelma' having already appeared on '1964-1993'). 'One Trick' fares best of the re-issues actually, with the demos that are the most different to songs heard on the album, while it's Paul's other ignored work 'The Capeman' that fares second best, with one track sung by Paul on the cast album replaced by a recording made by the actor playing 'The Capeman' and another recorded by the actress playing his mother replaced by a lo-fi demo Paul made early on during writing sessions. There's probably nothing here earth-shattering enough to make it worth your whole re-buying all the albums again (and would it have hurt Warner Brothers to have included 'Slip Slidin' Away' somewhere?!), but this 'celebration' of Warner Brothers buying up the rights to all the 'old' Paul Simon albums from the 1970s as well as 'Pony' onwards made this sort of a set too good an opportunity to refuse. A useful way of getting tonnes of sublime music all in one go.
"Old Friends - Live On Stage"
(Columbia/Sony, December 2004)
CD One: America (Introduction Dialogue)/Old Friends-Bookends/A Hazy Shade Of Winter/I Am A Rock/America/At The Zoo/Baby Driver/Kathy's Song/The Tom and Jerry Story (Dialogue)/Hey Schoolgirl!/Everly Brothers (Dialogue)/Bye Bye Love/Scarborough Fair-Canticle/Homeward Bound/The Sound Of Silence
CD Two: Mrs Robinson/Slip Slidin' Away/El Condor Pasa/Keep The Customer Satisfied/The Only Living Boy In New York/American Tune/My Little Town/Bridge Over Troubled Water/Cecilia/The Boxer/Leaves That Are Green/Citizen Of The Planet
"Preserve your memories - they're all that's left you"
You can feel the audience willing this tour to succeed. You can even hear Simon and Garfunkel willing it to succeed, to not make the same mistakes of the past. Certainly the signs for this unexpected reunion were good: compared to the tensions behind the scenes at the Central Park reunion a quarter century earlier, this tour was easy with both men getting their way: Paul got his beloved band, Arty got the opening he wanted with just the two voices and a guitar (singing 'Bookends' of all things, the twenty-seven-year old Paul's musings on where the pair might be when they reach their 70s - which happened for real in 2011, just six years on from this set). The affection from both audience and singers is palpable, with the highlights of this set coming not from the music but the cosy and often hilarious chat on stage: Paul and Arty chat about first meeting in the 'Alice In Wonderland' play ('I was the White Rabbit' says Paul, 'A very important supporting role!'), about using their real names back when it was unfashionable ('I always thought of us as Garfunkel and Simon!' deadpans Arty, 'We should do that!' adds Paul), Paul debates where 'the woo-bop-a-loo-chi-ba' from 'Hey Schoolgirl' comes from, mentioning 'scholars say...' and even talk about their legendary disagreements ('We don't row anymore' says Paul to a huge round of applause, 'Nowadays we just say 'that's your opinion and I respect that!', the many repeats of this quote across the set showing that the pair can laugh at how they still have disagreements over the set lists even now). Had the Central Park reunion been given in the same warm affectionate funny atmosphere as this one Simon and Garfunkel might never have broken up again and their discography would be double the length.
Unfortunately, though, the music doesn't fare as well, with both Simon and Garfunkel showing their age with cracked voices and generally lethargic tempos (to be fair that's more a problem with this 'official' CD rather than the tour itself, which certainly started off with enthusiasm and gusto given the many bootlegs out there). Arty's voice troubles, suffered since his 'Live Across America' album in the late 1990s, are here in force, while Paul's guitar playing hand seems to be giving him problems and he struggles to find a fit around his partner's voice. Given that this set was released right in the peak period for S and G's live archive sets, it simply showed up how much of a struggle suddenly is for them both, after decades of singing being the most natural thing in the world for both men. Unlike the 'Central Park' gig there aren't as many opportunities to hear the duo play anything new either: 'Slip Slidin' Away' is the only solo song to make the cut, while only a nicely rocky 'Baby Driver' (which sadly strains the pair's voices even more) and a very shakey 'My Little Town' can't be heard on any other S and G live album. That said, Paul's taken the opportunity to re-arrange many of the old classics and far from being the sacrilege it could have been these are the set highlights, with 'Homeward Bound' expanded by several minutes thanks to some shimmering electric guitar into a song that celebrates the fact that the two singers are 'home' at last, back together where they should have been, while 'I Am A Rock' gets a heavy rock makeover that works rather well, the metallic cell-door slam of the guitars emphasising the alienation. This revival of 'Hey Schoolgirl' from 1957 (sadly cut short) is far more straightfaced and affectionate than the 'goofy' version heard on the 'Old Friends' box set from 1969. There's also a 'four-way' version of 'Bye Bye Love' sung with the real thing, as Simon and Garfunkel call their support act The Everly Brothers back to the stage to sing along (even though this CD largely dates from the end of the tour, when this has happened lots of time, you can still hear the thrill Simon and Garfunkel have to be singing with their heroes). The rest though is a struggle to sit through, with a tone-deaf 'Hazy Shade Of Winter' and easily the worst (certainly the flattest) 'Sound Of Silence' out there the most disappointing. In aesthetic terms, then, 'Old Friends- Live On Stage' is the sweetest and most perfect of S and G live albums, though in practice it's easily the weakest.
We also get a rather curious 'extra' on the end, a studio recording named 'Citizen Of The Planet'. Greeted as the first 'Simon and Garfunkel studio recording in thirty years' ('My Little Town'), it's actually the first in eight, taped at the start of the 1983 reunion sessions (that became 'Hearts and Bones') and the closest any of the songs came to being finished with Garfunkel harmonies (though the pair added a few harmonies here and there for this record, so I guess it kind of counts). Unfortunately there's a reason Paul didn't include this track on his finished album, unlike all the others Arty started with him: it simply isn't good enough, a weak-kneed hippie song that's forgettable by the pair's best standards. Oh well, it was a good try and fans would rather have the duo around again than not even if the whole show smacks a little of 'pension plans' after a difficult decade for them both solo-wise. Isn't it terribly strange to be seventy? Where did all that time go?!
AG "Some Enchanted Evening"
(Atco, January 2007)
I Remember You/Someone To Watch Over Me/Let's Fall In Love/I'm Glad There Is You/Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars/Easy Living/I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face/You Stepped Out Of A Dream/Some Enchanted Evening/It Could Happen To You/Life Is But A Dream/What'll I Do?/If I Loved You/While We're Young
"Gone is the romance that was so divine, 'tis gone and cannot be mended"
Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. I'd really been looking forward to seeing what Arty came up with next after his bravest, most creative solo album 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed' - his first full album of originals perhaps? Or at any rate a continuation of that album's autobiography and melancholy, both aspects of which had worked so well and added so much weight and depth to Arty's material. Instead he comes out with what surely must be his most pointless studio album - a collection of 'American Songbook' compositions, concentrating mainly on musicals, none of which match even Jimmy Webb's talent never mind Paul Simon's. Had Arty recorded this in his prime or even given the arrangements a few new twists (the way he had West Side Story's 'I Had A Love' on the under-rated 'Lefty') then 'Evening' might have still been worth a listen. But by 2007 his vocals have lost that glossy natural feel and the breathy voice used across this album suggests that singing is becoming more of a challenge than a pleasure. Of course even at half-strength Arty still has a lovely expressive voice and thanks to the wonders of studio re-takes he sounds an awful lot better than on his live CD 'Across America' (he even sounds as good as the 'old days' on album highlights 'I'm Glad There Is You' and 'If I Loved You'), but there's no denying that this album lacks the magic of past efforts. Regular fans will also feel my air of panic and nausea as I tell you that the dominant instruments here are a very 80s synth and an even more 80s saxophone (neither are, erm, my favourite sounds in the world) and both of which make this album sound incredibly anachronistic for its release date. This record may well be 'enchanted' but spells can be bad as well as good - most fans agree that this album is a bit of a mistake and have quietly filed it away, to never be played again. Oh well, it's still better than Paul McCartney's 'crooning' album released five years later and even Arty at his worst has a better voice than Rod Stewart's similar 'American Songbook' albums when his was at a peak...
Johnny Mercer's 'I Remember You' has been covered by almost everybody since first being heard in obscure film 'The Fleet's In' in 1942, but rarely as clumsily as here. Arty drifts his way through the song at an agonisingly slow tempo, accompanied by a godawful synth part, some toe-curling harmonica parts and Steve Gadd's noisiest drums in years (nobody seems to have told him that he's not doing '50 Ways To Leave Your Lover').
George Gershwin's 'Someone To Watch Over Me' at least has room for some flamenco guitar, but like Gershwin's worst songs this one sounds arch and insincere and an off-form Arty accompanied by another ugly synth can't bring out even this lesser song's inner beauty. Yuck!
'Let's Fall In Love' is a jazzy song best known from Ella Fitzgerald's cover and is a chirpy upbeat carefree song that to be frank is blooming irritating whoever's singing it (Ella's repertoire is nearly all made up of empty songs like these, a waste of a good voice). Arty sings really poorly here too, so that you're almost pleased when the saxophone solo comes in. And if a sax solo is the best thing about a recording then you know you're in trouble...
I'm glad there is 'I'm Glad There Is You', if only because Jimmy Dorsey's song adds a bit of grit and realism to the album, contrasting the bitterness of the narrator's life before meeting his perfect lover. Arty finally gets a chance to show off how many notes he can still sing on at full pelt, but the backing is if anything even more artificial than usual with more clumsy drumming (played by a synth this time) and syrupy synths.
Arty has covered Carlos Jobim's deeply weird work before without much success, but at least 'Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars' is a more fitting song to cover than 'Waters Of March'. Not that this is in any way good: it's more 80s karaoke sung on one note, but hey at least this time the melody actually has one note, that's an improvement!
'Easy Living' is a 1930s jazz song, played with all the belief of a pub band and another sleepy tempo that makes the whole piece drag like anything. Suddenly a whole album of Jimmy Webb songs doesn't seem so bad.
Lerner and Lowe's 'My Fair Lady' standard 'I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face' really doesn't work out of context: it's meant to be the sound of a bully realising that he's actually in love. Slowing the song down and adding what can only be described as a doorbell while Arty struggles to breath in the right places, never mind sing, is really not a good idea either. I've grown accustomed to his voice as it used to be, even four years earlier - the rain on Arty falls mainly on our party.
'You Stepped Out Of A Dream' actually stepped out of my nightmares: Arty sings low and flat to the sound of electronic panpipes and a drum machine. Which is a shame, because this track from the musical 'Ziegfield Girl' is actually one of the better songs here and the younger Arty would have nailed this song perfectly.
Title track 'Some Enchanted Evening' is the inevitable Rodgers and Hammerstein cover, frustratingly taken from easily their weakest work 'South Pacific' where ugly bully sailors fall in love with argumentative bossy islanders (it's one of those works where you want everyone to drown by the end of the first act; how did the two men responsible for the sublime 'Carousel' sink so low?) Arty sounds bewitched by the Wicked Witch of the North (David Cameron), giving his all but getting nothing back from the backing band. Excruciating.
Johnny Burke's 'It Could Happen To You' might have been nice with a bigger budget, but using a 1980s casio keyboard to fill in for the strings and another drum track is really not a good idea. Better than most on this album if only because it's unforgettable, rather than lodging in your memory for all the wrong reasons.
The most obscure song here by some margin, Raoul Cita's 'Life Is But A Dream' is better than the majority, dropping the backing into the distance and turning Arty up full. Garfunkel is born for cosily romantic songs like this one, which is one of three tracks from this album you might actually enjoy, as Arty tells us everything that's great about his lover.
Irving Berlin's over-used 'What'll I Do?' is again better than most songs here if only for emphasising Arty's voice at the expense of the twee backing. However the 'push' in the middle eight shows up how worryingly thin Arty's voice has become and again the arrangement drifts where it should be knocking us out with the sadness and grief of the lyric. Dean Parks, a future Crosby-Nash session guitarist, also turns in a wretched guitar solo here devoid of all feeling.
At least Carousel's 'If I Loved You' gives a talented singer some deeper material to get his teeth into at last. However this song too makes no sense out of context (this should be a duet, by two people who are clearly in love but won't admit it - so this is a hypothetical song about how they 'would' be feeling if they were in love - which of course they secretly are). Arty takes the easy way out, staying breathy rather than soaring on the long notes, but at least there's a lot of him on this track and this sort of vocal-heavy arrangement should have been the way to go.
Three average recordings then, coupled with ten of the worst recordings made by any of the AAA crew. Following the sublime danger and poignancy of 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed' this album is a travesty in every conceivable way and is one of the worst things Arty could possibly have done at this stage in his career. Inevitably the record company got behind the 'wrong' album and left 'Noticed' to die a lonely inevitable while plugging this awful travesty incessantly instead. The record business can be cruel. Don't be fooled though: stick with Arty's previous record and only buy this one if you're masochistic or about to do work experience in the music department at Guantanamo Bay. Some enchanted evening? Really?!
"The Essential Paul Simon"
(Warner Brothers/Legacy, June 2007)
CD One: Mother and Child Reunion/Loves Me Like A Rock/Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard/Duncan/Kodochrome/50 Ways To Leave Your Lover/Slip Slidin' Away/Gone At Last/Something So Right/Late In The Evening/Hearts and Bones/Take Me To The Mardi-Gras/That Was Your Mother/American Tune/Peace Like A River/Stranded In A Limousine/Train In The Distance/The Late Great Johnny Ace/Still Crazy After All These Years
CD Two: Graceland/Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes/The Boy In The Bubble/You Can Call Me Al/Under African Skies/The Obvious Child/Born At The Right Time/The Cool Cool River/Spirit Voices/Adios Hermanos/Born In Puerto Rico/Quality/Darling Lorraine/Hurricane Eye/Father and Daughter/Outrageous/Wartime Prayers
"Long past the midnight curfew we sat starry-eyed"
I usually have a problem with compilations that call themselves 'essential' - as you'll have realised long ago by now even an artist's lesser works are 'essential' if you really want to get to know and understand them, while my idea of what's essential and a record companies are usually many light years apart. This time, though, Warner Brothers largely gets the balance right, offering us three or four songs from most of Paul's albums (although the under-rated 'One Trick Pony' 'Hearts and Bones' and 'You're The One' continue to get short shrift). This is particularly good news for fans curious to know what Paul's later less well known albums like 'The Capeman' and 'Surprise' sound like, with a good mixture from each (though 'Father and Daughter' remains one of the few Paul Simon songs I can't stomach). There's also a rare chance to hear both sides of the 'Slip Slidin' Away'/ 'Stranded In A Limousine' single. However there's far too much here from 'Graceland', which rather overpowers the set (and which fan seriously wanted 'That Was Your Mother' over, say, 'Homeless'?) while the running order is only 'loosely' in chronological order, making a mess of the 1970-1983 run (to be fair if it was left as it is here the first disc would have ended with lots of slow ballads together, but that's not necessarily a bad thing).Still, this is probably the best Paul Simon compilation yet, thorough without getting unwieldy and affordable rather than cheap and tacky or hideously expensive. A 'deluxe' edition was also released with a bonus third disc, a DVD containing extracts from The Dick Cavett Show (where Paul asks for 'help' with a new song he's stuck on named 'Still Crazy After All These Years'), five music videos, the 'Father and Daughter' clip from 'The Wild Thornberrys' film and three of the four of Pauls performances on Saturday Night Live including the George Harrison duet on 'Homeward Bound' (sadly there's no 'Here Comes The Sun').
(Columbia, November 2007)
CD One: Wednesday Morning 3 AM
(Bonus tracks: Bleeker Street/He Was My Brother (Alternate Take)/The Sun Is Burning (Alternate Take))
CD Two: The Sounds Of Silence
(Bonus Tracks: Blues Run The Game/Barbri-Allen/Rose Of Aberdeen/The Roving Gambler)
CD Three: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
(Bonus Tracks: Patterns (Demo)/A Poem On The Underground Wall (Demo))
CD Four: Bookends
(Bonus Tracks: You Don't Know Where Your Interest Lies/Old Friends (Demo))
CD Five: Bridge Over Troubled Water
Feuilles-O (Demo)/Bridge Over Troubled Water (Demo))
DVD Six: The Concert In Central Park
"Wherever I have played, wherever I roll those dice, the blues have run the game"
The Simon and Garfunkel albums had all been re-released on CD in 2001 with a short but intriguing pile of alternate takes before being collected together in this box set in 2007 in a set that represented staggering value for money. For the price of £15 (a single CD by a new and almost certainly inferior modern artist) you could own five important milestones of musical collection, by one of the 1960s best writers and sung by one of the 1960s best harmony duos, plus a DVD of the full 'Central Park' reunion gig. Of the 'bonus tracks' that hadn't appeared before they were a mixed bunch, disappointing on the early years with two 'Wednesday Morning' alternate versions were near-enough the same as the finished album takes anyway and the three new 'Sounds Of Silence' folk songs in the style of the first record didn't add a lot. However the later albums fared better, with the two brief demos from the 'Parsley' era were fascinatingly sparse alternate readings, an intriguing snippet of 'Old Friends' and a rehearsal take of 'Bridge' that's a tad slower and softer than the finished version.
There was nothing here that major fans hadn't already bought separately on the individual CDs of course and the packaging left a little to be desired, with no real sleevenotes, just a booklet featuring the track listings in larger print. However even there this set did what it needed to, with a rather classy silhouette of Simon and Garfunkel, instantly recognisable despite being an unusual white on blue, on the side of the set and some nice reproductions of the original album sleeves included as stand-alone CDs inside the box (which, in their new smaller size, makes the original sleevenotes impossible to read but never mind - better the packaging look like this than mess around with it in some way). If only the set could have included a seventh disc, rounding up all the oddities from other releases (the 'Graduate' soundtrack, the 'Old Friends' Christmas carols, the still unreleased six songs set from the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 where Paul is clearly 'stoned' yet the pair still sing like angels) this would have been perfect. However, at the original price at least, 'The Collection' remains a top drawer re-issue that manages a rare combination of being both affordable and looking like it was made by somebody who cared about the product. Highly recommended.
(Columbia, November 2007)
Bridge Over Troubled Water/The Boxer/I Am A Rock/America/Leaves That Are Green/Wednesday Morning 3AM/At The Zoo/Fakin' It/So Long Frank Lloyd Wright/April Come She Will/Richard Cory/Scarborough Fair-Canticle
"I have squandered my resistance for a pocket full of munbles, such are promises"
A curious collection, which reduces the usual Simon and Garfunkel compilation running order to a mere 12 songs and yet still has time for relative oddities like 'Richard Cory' (good idea) and 'So Long Frank Lloyd Wright' and 'April Come She Will' (less so). This compilation basically finds the space by axing some of the usual standards so that, for instance, there's no 'Homeward Bound' here or 'Mrs Robinson' while this set must surely be unique in not containing any version of 'The Sound Of Silence'. Which makes it rather pointless as a best-of, while if this set was intended to be more of a career overview concentrating on rarer material you have to ask why it starts, like so many similar collections do, with 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'. Together with the tacky picture collage of Simon and Garfunkel displayed on the 59th Street Bridge (another track that's missing by the way!) this set has 'avoid' written all over it.
"Playlist: The Very Best Of Art Garfunkel"
(Sony, July 2010)
Al I Know/Sail On A Rainbow/Crying In The Rain/Disney Girls/Grateful/My Little Town/The Promise/Bright Eyes/99 Miles From L.A./The Perfect Moment/A Heart In New York/(What A) Wonderful World)/I Only Have Eyes For You/Barbara Allen
"I know that if you love me too what a wonderful world this would be"
Regular readers will know that I'm quite fond of Sony's 'Playlist' series, which aims to offer an 'alternative' to the usual greatest hits collections for most of the artists on their label and its subsidiaries (though they haven't got round to doing Paul Simon yet...) and which offer a cheap and environmentally friendly (the sleeves are all made of recycled cardboard) way of deciding whether you like an artist enough to dive headlong into their albums, with at least one track from every studio Garfunkel album. Goodness knows there are enough gems to choose from in Arty's catalogue away from the hits and a good deal of them are here, with some excellent selections from the unsung classic albums 'Lefty' and 'Everything Waits To Be Noticed' as well as excellent covers of 'Disney Girls' '99 Miles From L.A.' and 'A Heart In New York'. There's also two out of the three Paul Simon reunions from the mid-1970s with not just 'My Little Town' but '(What A) Wonderful World' here too (though sadly no sign of 'In Cars'). Admittedly the three hit single choices of 'All I Know' 'Bright Eyes' and 'I Only Have Eyes For You' is a bit of a shame when we could have had braver, better choices ('I Believe' 'Scissors Cut' etc) and Sony could have easily doubled the length of tracks and still fitted everything onto a single CD, but hey ho. This is only meant to be an 'introduction' after all and it's a rather good one at that.