Art Garfunkel has more than a few inches on sometime-partner Paul Simon, but the diminutive half of one of pop music’s greatest duos went on to eclipse his counterpart after their acrimonious 1971 split.
Not that rhymin’ Simon’s fame and fortune is unwarranted. On the contrary, the soft-spoken bard from the Big Apple has notched dozens of terrific tunes over the years, and albums like Graceland and So Beautiful or So What melded some of the globe’s most intriguing sounds with sublime—and distinctly American—folk storytelling. Simon’s chart-toppers and signature tunes have been repeatedly collected on compilations like Negotiations and Love Songs and Greatest Hits: Shining Like a National Guitar.
Now fans finally get a proper Garfunkel anthology to add to their libraries.
Sure, Sony released Garfunkel’s Simply the Best in 1998. Then Columbia followed with a Garfunkel-themed disc in 2010 as part of its ongoing Playlist hits series. But there’s never been an Art anthology as comprehensive—or rewarding—as Columbia Legacy’s The Singer, a 2-CD set spanning and featuring 34 tracks handpicked by the tenor himself. Released near the end of Garfunkel’s seventieth year, it is an overdue career retrospective that thrusts the man’s angelic voice front and center. Casual fans will recall those heavenly Simon and Garfunkel harmonies, but they’ll also pick up on a few sweet songs they missed in the late Seventies and early Eighties, when Simon was dominating spotlights and guesting on The Muppet Show. The Singer is Legacy’s Garfunkelized sequel to its 2011 Simon survey, The Songwriter.
The set boasts original album versions of Art-led Simon and Garfunkel classics like “April Come She Will,” “Scarborough Fair / Canticle,” “So Long Frank Lloyd Wright,” and “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her.” 1964 breakthrough hit “The Sound of Silence” is accounted for, as is the still-breathtaking track from the duo’s final studio album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. And while Simon handled lead vocal on the Sounds of Silence rendition of “Kathy’s Song,” Garfunkel sang it during their 2003-04 Old Friends Tour, which yields the recording heard here.
The compendium also carries ambassadors from almost all Art’s solo efforts—from 1973’s Angel Clare (“Barbara Allen”) through 2007’s Some Enchanted Evening (“I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”). Two songs represent his 2002 songwriting collaboration with Buddy Mondlack and Maia Sharp (“Perfect Moment,” “The Thread”). Two feature fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer James Taylor. Two more (“Lena” and “Long Way Home”) were recorded specifically for this offering—before Garfunkel’s recent bout (and recovery from) vocal paresis. There’s even a pair of Christmas songs (“O Come All Ye Faithful” and “The Decree”).
The Singer places due emphasis on Garfunkel’s distinctive choirboy vocals: His eloquent phrasing, airy inflection, and breezy delivery. But the songs were written by some of the top names in the business. Grammy-winning composer Jimmy Webb submits “In Cars,” “Scissors Cut,” and “All I Know—which Art renders with ardent anguish. “I Only Have Eyes for You” arrives courtesy Harry Warren and Al Dubin (who penned the standard for the 1934 musical Dames). “Disney Girls” is the work of Beach Boys member Bruce Johnston, who accompanies Garfunkel on piano (with Toni Tennille singing backup). The late Kenny Rankin authored “I Wonder Why,” from 1988’s Lefty.
Garfunkel’s trip down memory lane likewise includes cameos by some of the best musicians in jazz and soft rock. Saxophonist Michael Brecker wails on “A Heart in New York” and is joined by flautist Jeremy Steig on Percy Sledge uber-ballad “When a Man Loves a Woman” (which Art croons with hushed, romantic restraint). David Crosby and Graham Nash check in on 1975’s “Breakaway.” Then there’s that J.T. fellow, who fingerpicks his guitar and lends his rich pipes to Sam Cooke oldie-but-goodie “(What a) Wonderful World.” Plucked from a repressing of 1978 LP Watermark, the song also features sweet falsetto by Simon—making for an infectious three-part all-star harmony. Taylor also duets with Garfunkel for a cover of Everly Brothers’ hit “Crying in the Rain” (from 1993’s Up ‘til Now). And yes, that’s CSN / Bob Seger guitarist Dean Parks on one of the new songs.
“What is the singing voice to me?” Garfunkel muses in his liner notes.
“A name, a skill, or a flag I see? A certain thrill—the gift of glide, the ride on the cusp of emotion, uplift from the heart to the cords, love for the song, for the sound.”
Spanning over forty years, The Singer is a treasure trove of Garfunkel, cantor and poet—from his early repertoire (Wednesday Morning, 3AM) and leading man middle years (Breakaway) to his recent work with new writers and some old friends (Everything Waits to Be Noticed). And all S & G collections are left wanting without it.