Art Garfunkel | The Singer (Sony Legacy)

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garfunkel thesingerThe crown jewel in this collection is the disc-two track "I Wonder Why," a duet with the late, great Kenny Rankin.

 

There is an old Saturday Night Liveskit featuring Kevin Nealon and Paul Simon as a very Simon & Garfunkel-esque folk duo. While Simon sings his heart out and plays his acoustic guitar, the only job Nealon's character appears to have is clapping in time. Toward the end of the skit, the viewer is told that Nealon's character has gone on to a solo career, releasing an album consisting of nothing but...clapping. The skit was pretty funny, but it also served to show just how marginalized Art Garfunkel's contributions to Simon & Garfunkel had become to all but the most devoted music aficionados.

To help bridge the gap between public perception and artistic accomplishment, Sony Legacy has released the two-disc Garfunkel career retrospective simply titled The Singer. Starting with Garfunkel's 1964 debut with Simon though 2007's Some Enchanted Evening, it also includes a couple of new tracks recorded specifically for this release. Unlike most career retrospectives, the songs do not appear in chronological order. Rather, they are assembled in such a way that gives an ebb and flow to the tracks, showing more interest in pacing than giving any kind of history lesson. On the plus side, this allows us to experience the highlights of his career without the added distraction of their place in time, and it puts an emphasis on his meticulous vocal work as well as his tasteful choice of material. On the negative side, it can be challenging to give his lesser-known solo numbers the proper attention when placed next to those classic S&G tracks.

On the whole, the highs outweigh the lows, as disc one starts off with what is perhaps his most iconic performance, "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and segues into the first of many Jimmy Webb-penned tunes, "All I Know." Garfunkel's gift of interpretation is well represented with performances on tracks such as Bruce Johnston's Beach Boys track "Disney Girls"; Carole King and Howard Greenfield's "Crying in the Rain," where he's joined by James Taylor paying homage to the Everly Brothers; and a sublime jazz rendition of Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser's chestnut "Two Sleepy People." Less successful are the Antonio Carlos Jobim song "Waters of March," a bossa nova experiment derailed by a monotone delivery, and the Percy Sledge classic "When a Man Loves a Woman," undone by a shockingly ill-conceived and distracting flute solo that shatters whatever spell Garfunkel was trying to weave.

Other standouts on the collection include the Scottish folk tune made famous by Joan Baez, "Barbara Allen," and a live version of "Kathy's Song," a good example of Garfunkel's ability to take a piece of music and infuse it with an intimacy that translates even within the context of an arena audience. Garfunkel's foray into songwriting is represented by two new tracks from 2002's Everything Waits To Be Noticed, "The Thread" and "Perfect Moment."

For me, the crown jewel in this collection is the disc-two track "I Wonder Why." A duet with the late, great Kenny Rankin, the song represents everything that Art Garfunkel does best. Using his fragile but euphoric tenor to explore a contemplative, romantic lyric with a fellow master vocalist like Rankin, this is a transcendent piece of music that, if you have a heart, is impossible not be swept away by. It makes me a wish the two had collaborated on an entire album, and when you hear the song, you'll understand why. Their voices meld beautifully and complement each other so well, it's a shame there isn't more material featuring the two.

If you are a fan of Garfunkel's, solo work, you'll probably find it unnecessary to pick this up, as you have most, if not all, of these tracks already. For the curious but careful, this set is a good enough starting point, and a worthy addition to your collection—Kevin Nealon be damned. | Jim Ousley

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