CD Review Art Garfunkel ‘The Singer’: All We Know

There’s no denying Paul Simon emerged as the top star of wildly successful ’60s folk duo Simon & Garfunkel, as evidenced by his solo career’s sustained excellence and the composing chops which led Columbia/Legacy to dub his 2011 collection Songwriter. But former partner Art Garfunkel also was the voice of many S&G songs, and given his own respectable solo career, it’s fitting that his own two-disc set, due Tuesday from the same label, is dubbed The Singer.

Featuring 34 songs hand-picked by Garfunkel, who also provides track-by-track liner notes, The Singer is a melodious, non-chronological journey from Garfunkel’s S&G salad days to solo hits (All I Know, Breakaway) and select album tracks. Two new songs from the singer, now 70, also are included for good measure (Long Way Home and the uncharacteristically rocking Lena, with Dean Parks on guitar).

The music is sweetly engaging but soft to a fault; listening to it all in one sitting risks drifting off into a serene slumber. Not that the songs are dull, just almost relentlessly easy-listening. There’s little evidence of the rock spirit in S&G’s Richard Cory or I Am A Rock — and  nothing at all from my favorite S&G album, Bookends. Even The Sound of Silence is taken from the more spare and folkish early version on the debut S&G LP, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM.

Now, is this a complaint? When it comes to Garfunkel’s smooth, angelic, tenor/baritone voice, no. He’s truly better suited to balladry, mellowness and even hymnal material such as Bridge Over Troubled Water and post-S&G hits (What A) Wonderful World (with Simon and James Taylor), Breakaway, Bright Eyes and Jimmy Webb’s beautiful and epic (overproduced?) All I Know.

Besides, the album tracks are superb picks, including Crying in the Rain (with Taylor) from S&G’s early inspiration, the Everly Brothers; When A Man Loves a Woman, the ’60s Percy Sledge torch ballad which Garfunkel reworks more adroitly than Michael Bolton’s bombastic remake; and the inevitable late-career standards such as I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face, which he certainly does more justice than did talk-singing Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.

The new Lena also kicks out the jams (if such can be said in this context), showing Garfunkel hasn’t abandoned his early energy. He writes that the song concerns a girl who drinks and parties too much (perhaps she’s related to Cecelia), and that he loves hearing Parks “on electric guitar take the fade into warped madness.” (Is there any other kind?)

As for me, I also love hearing again the Beach Boys’ melancholy yet nostalgically uplifting Disney Girls, graced by one of the sweetest melodies of the set.

With two discs of so much material, The Singer is certainly a bountiful harvest of Garfunkel’s work as a singer and interpreter of others’ songs. He may not be the musical heavyweight that Simon became, but his smooth singing has left its own stamp, and his own 50-year career is well worth celebrating.

— Bruce Westbrook

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