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Simon (and Garfunkel)

Reviewed on this page:
Wednesday Morning At 3 A.M. - Sounds Of Silence - Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme - Bookends - Bridge Over Troubled Water - Paul Simon - There Goes Rhymin' Simon - Angel Clare - Still Crazy After All These Years - Breakaway - Watermark - One-Trick Pony - Hearts And Bones - Graceland - The Rhythm Of The Saints - Songs From The Capeman - You're the One - Surprise - So Beautiful Or So What

A folk act from Queens, New York(!), Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel looked like they were going nowhere after recording an unsuccessful all-acoustic debut album. When Dylan went electric a year later, they overdubbed some "rock" instruments onto their then-strongest offering - "Sound of Silence" - and it promptly became a hit. After years of struggling at the outskirts of the music industry, Simon jumped at the chance to sell out and proceeded to record four of the best pop records of the era. The duo was never a true rival to their British counterparts, the Beatles, but they still made a lot of memorable recordings and were a major force on both the singles and LP charts. It's too bad that Simon dumped his velvety-voiced tenor sidekick, and then proceeded to render himself irrelevant with a string of dull soft-rock records. But some of his 70s work is sophisticated and entertaining, and in the 80s he salvaged his reputation with a pair of excellent "world music" albums.

As for Garfunkel, as the junior partner in the firm and as a solo artist who's never written a substantial amount of his own material and often veers towards lightweight pop, he hasn't attracted too much attention from critics. However, a couple of his solo albums are tasteful and worth hearing. We have reviewed most the solo records by each member of the duo, but we're still missing several others, including the two live "Central Park" albums. We'll keep filling in the missing reviews as we go along. (JA)

There's a wonderfully detailed, flashy Paul Simon and Garfunkel fan site. (DBW)

Wednesday Morning At 3 A.M. (1964)
- Almost unbearably sincere, this is a perfect example of what the early 60s folk movement could accomplish in the hands of two good singers with an ear for catchy melodies (the classic "Bleecker Street"). But be careful if you're expecting the complex pop-rock arrangements that the duo only later adopted; here, it's two-voices-and-one-acoustic-guitar all the way. There are a lot of traditional numbers and covers here, including a medieval piece with a great vocal arrangment ("Benedictus"), a couple of annoying, starry-eyed religious folk numbers ("Go Tell It On The Mountain"), and Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'." Simon's own material veers towards protest songs ("Sparrow"; the ultra-earnest "He Was My Brother") and social commentary ("The Sound Of Silence"); sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. (JA)
- Minimal instrumentation shows off Garfunkel's vocal arrangements, and the originals here ("Sparrow," "Bleecker Street") are excellent. (DBW)

Sounds Of Silence (1966)
- A quick cash-in on the folk-rock phenomenon, it still has some great moments. There are cheap shots all over the place, like a "new" version of the title track that's merely the original with overdubbed "rock" instruments, and "Somewhere They Can't Find Me," a transparent rewrite of the last album's title track. And some of the new social commentary-type material is gratingly heavy-handed ("Richard Cory"; "A Most Peculiar Man"). However, the A-side material is memorable: a lightweight but irresistable pop song ("We Got A Groovy Thing Goin'"), a couple of fine romantic ballads with Garfunkel in peak form ("Leaves That Are Green"; "April Come She Will"), and Simon's introspective teeny bopper masterpiece "I Am A Rock." (JA)
- This sounds like it was done in a hurry; they haven't got the hang of folk-pop arranging yet, and Simon's songs aren't as thoughtful as the ones on the surrounding albums. There's also a pointless instrumental, and the rerun of the title track. (DBW)

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme (1967)
- A solid, although occasionally over-commercial collection of pop songs that fuse Dylan's wordplay and the Beatles' melodic pop sound circa Rubber Soul. Some of it's well-crafted but slight (the just-cynical-enough-for-radio "Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine"; the gimmicky "A Poem On The Underground Wall"). But there are enough unforgettable tunes here to make it worth tracking down - the title track, with an amazingly complex two-part vocal arrangement; the heart-wrenching "Homeward Bound"; a couple of great ballads like "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her"; and the bouncy hit single "59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)." (JA)
- Some very nice songs here ("The Dangling Conversation," "Homeward Bound"), but there's also the misfired gag "A Simple Desultory Phillipic," the dated "Silent Night/7 O'Clock News," and too many mediocre ballads like "Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall." (DBW)

Bookends (1968)
- A half-concept album, with one side being padded out with diverse, but strong singles like the fast-paced "A Hazy Shade of Winter." All of it's good, though, and half of it's great (title track; "Fakin' It"; "Mrs. Robinson"; "America"; "Old Friends"). The production values have jumped far ahead in an effort to emulate Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: "Save The Life Of My Child" is dense with sound effects and manic changes of pace. And Garfunkel's vocals are better than ever ("America"; "Old Friends"). The less-serious tracks are catchy and clever anyway ("Punky's Dilemma," superficially a throwaway nonsense song, but full of sexual innuendoes; "At The Zoo," which drives its brilliant zoo animal metaphors into the ground). The only misstep is a two-minute sound collage whose title is all too literal - "Voices Of Old People." (JA)
- Their best work, together or separately--the concept side shines with "Save The Life Of My Child" and "America"; the singles on side two are brilliant, with the exception of the silly but fun "At The Zoo." (DBW)

Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
- Much more eclectic than its predecessors, but just as tuneful and lyrically clever. The "weak" tracks are merely half-formed (the ballad "Song For The Asking"), and Simon tries out every genre he can think of - epics (title track, at nearly five minutes far longer than anything he'd attempted before); creepy, orchestrated thought-pieces ("Frank Lloyd Wright"); foot-stomping sing-alongs (the testosterone-drenched "Cecilia"); an Everly Brothers cover (an energetic live cut of "Bye Bye Love"); and a great Andean folk song ("El Condor Pasa") - not to mention the mini-pop symphonies he already was known for ("The Boxer"). There are more questionable judgment calls and off-putting experiments than on the last record, but Simon's creativity and daring are at their peak here. (JA)
- "The Boxer" and the title song are wonderful; the rest tends to be, at best, the kind of pop-rock fluff that consumed Simon's solo career ("Cecilia," "Baby Driver"). (DBW)

Paul Simon (Simon: 1972)
Here's the good news: the lead-off track is an incongruous, completely straight-faced reggae number, an impressively early experiment for a rock record - and Simon even turned it into an A-side ("Mother And Child Reunion"). But a second, even catchier single (the upbeat "Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard") is drenched in so much Brazilian percussion that it's downright distracting. Elsewhere, the sound is as soft as jello, with minimal, acoustic instrumentation, and aimless, forgettable tunes - music to sip wine coolers by (okay, so there weren't any wine coolers back then). All of this seems to be intended to show a clear break with Simon and Garfunkel's sound, but dropping Garfunkel's marvelous harmonies was enough to accomplish that - every track cries out for him. And despite some other experiments like a couple of acoustic blues numbers ("Paranoia Blues") and a violin-acoustic guitar instrumental ("Hobo's Blues"), repetition of earlier ideas abounds: "Duncan," for example, merely blends the themes of "America," "Trying To Keep The Customer Satisfied," etc., with the sound of "El Condor Pasa." Guests include Ron Carter, and the band includes Larry Knechtel and Hal Blaine. (JA)

There Goes Rhymin' Simon (Simon: 1973)
Simon is a little more aggressive here, but still tepid beyond all belief - I'm surprised this hit #2 on the charts and went platinum. Much of the record has a nostalgic 50's pop-rock sound (the whining, lounge-lizardesque "Tenderness"; the gigantic hit "Loves Me Like A Rock"), and once again the feathery production values render otherwise solid songs forgettable. For example, when Simon tries to cannibalize "foreign" musical elements like New Orleans jazz ("Take Me To The Mardi Gras") or reggae ("Was A Sunny Day"), he mellows things out so much that it seems patronizing. And the lyrics, slick and clever as they are, deal with trivial topics ("Tenderness"; the lullabye "St. Judy's Comet"); there's none of Simon's earlier interest in politics or twisted love. Still, there are more songwriting ideas - if fewer production experiments - than the last time around (the clever piano intro to the boring "One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor"). And some of the material is strong even in comparison to Simon's 60s work: the fine, but nearly catatonic love song "Something So Right"; the orchestrated epic "American Tune," like a watered-down "America"; and the bouncy A-side "Kodachrome," with an annoyingly unsyncopated bass line. On most tracks the rhythm section consists of David Hood (bass) and Roger Hawkins (drums). (JA)

Angel Clare (Garfunkel: 1973)
A charming solo debut for Garfunkel, as he succeeds in marrying his interests in classical music and folk ballads: the traditional "Barbara Allen" is graced with a fine string arrangement behind his soaring vocal, and he even records a Bach piece with new topical lyrics ("Do Space Men Pass Dead Souls On Their Way To The Moon?"). There are also several acoustic guitar numbers like "Down In The Willow Garden" and the folky "Mary Was An Only Child," while things get more raucous on the cleverly-arranged Van Morrison tune "I Shall Sing," with a full horn section. Art didn't write anything here, but he picked his material well (including the Top 10 hit "All I Know" by Jimmy Webb) and deserves credit for co-producing an engaging if unprofound work; the coproducer was longtime engineer Roy Halee. Big-name guests aplenty, including Jerry Garcia, Larry Carlton and Milt Holland, Carl Radle & Jim Gordon, Michael Omartian, J. J. Cale, and even Simon, who turns up on guitar but doesn't sing. Commercially this was a solid success, quickly going gold and hitting the Top 10. (DBW)

Live Rhymin' (Simon: 1974)
The track selection is split fairly evenly between Simon's solo and Garfunkel-era records, with most tracks being big hits like "Mother And Child Reunion" and "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." (JA)

Still Crazy After All These Years (Simon: 1975)
This time around Simon went with sophisticated jazzy pop, perhaps influenced by Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark: most of the players are widely respected, including Tony Levin, Joe Beck, Bob James, David Sanborn, Michael Brecker, Phil Woods, Valerie Simpson, and Steve Gadd. All the musicianship allows Simon to pull off even lightweight tunes like "Have A Good Time," and more substantial efforts like "Silent Eyes" simply shine: many of the tracks feature stripped-down arrangements that show off the talent to best advantage. The disc also benefits from some of Simon's most memorable melodies - "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" went to #1 (as did the album), and the title track is also a radio favorite - and lots of irrestistably clever lyrics ("I Do It For Your Love," "You're Kind"). He even gets away with a gospel tribute ("Gone At Last" with Phoebe Snow) and condescending lyrics on the A-side "My Little Town," his only full-blown studio reunion with Garfunkel, which is saved by a shifting, uplifting arrangement. There's no coherent political or social commentary here, but otherwise it's got everything you could want in a Paul Simon album, more consistent than much of his 60s work. Paul produced with engineer Phil Ramone. (DBW)

Breakaway (Garfunkel: 1975)
- "My Little Town" is here too, and it's the most substantial track on the album. Garfunkel delivers some enjoyable unpretentious soft-rock ("Rag Doll," title track, "The Same Old Tears On A New Background"), but often he overreaches, bringing tepid arrangements and vocals to songs that require more. The most disastrous example is his cover of Stevie Wonder's "I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)," minus the original's layered vocals and funky coda, and cursed with a sappy lead vocal - it sounds like a Dan Fogelberg track. He also spoils Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters Of March," laying on a plodding vocal that misses the subtleties of the bossa nova groove, and he covers an appalling Beach Boys tune by Bruce Johnston, "Disney Girls." Loads of guest performers, from West Coast regulars Lee Sklar, Russ Kunkel, John Guerin and Max Bennett to 60s survivors Nicky Hopkins, Klaus Voorman, Jim Gordon, Steve Cropper, David Crosby & Graham Nash. Produced by Richard Perry, who usually had better instincts; this is the place not to start with Art's solo work. (DBW)
- Garfunkel's voice is as exquisite as ever, and even though the bombastic orchestrated pop arrangements, gobs of shimmering electric piano, and odd choice of material often are unintentionally campy, the stuff is always pretty and carefully performed ("I Believe"; the elaborate "Disney Girls," very similar to the original arrangement, with backing vocals that sound to me like the real Beach Boys; "I Only Have Eyes For You," so sappy it's funny). The propulsive, feel-good "My Little Town" is a major find for S & G fans; the title track is a decent mid-tempo pop-rock song that strongly recalls the early 70s Beach Boys; the clumsy, childlike phrasing on the hypnotic "Waters Of March" is disarmingly cute, and he does even better with bossa nova on Hal David's sleek "99 Miles From L.A."; and several tunes are dreamy, romantic soft rock of the best kind ("Rag Doll"; S. Bishop's melodramatic "Same Old Tears" and Carole King-like "Looking For The Right One"). (JA)

Watermark (Garfunkel: 1977)
I never really got Jimmy Webb before I listened to this record: while he's written a bunch of undeniable hits, I never got a sense of him as an artist with anything to communicate. But his songs here (he wrote all but two numbers) are contemplative and charming, with sophisticated lyrics and a refreshingly casual melodicism ("Crying In My Sleep," "Mr. Shuck And Jive") - an adult pop album in the best sense of the word, and Garfunkel's interpretations make the most of it. Instead of being all over the map stylistically like his previous solo discs, this mostly stays in one mood throughout, to pleasant effect. In this context, the remake of Sam Cooke's 1960 hit "(What A) Wonderful World" sounds more like a reflection on lost youth than a desperate attempt at a hit - it was a hit single, though, partly because of the excellent co-lead vocals from Paul Simon and James Taylor. Able backing comes from Webb plus the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, which then featured David Hood and Roger Hawkins; the Chieftains guest on one track. (DBW)

Greatest Hits, Etc. (Simon: 1977)
Most of this includes all the predictable Simon solo material - and the truth is, you actually might do better with a greatest hits than with the original albums up to this point. The exceptions include a re-make of "American Tune" (from There Goes Rhymin' Simon) and two new tracks; "Slip Slidin' Away" was a hit single. (JA)

Fate For Breakfast (Garfunkel: 1979)
Garfunkel's solo career was a beached whale by now: neither the album nor any of its singles were commercially or critically successful. (JA)
It went nowhere in the States, but the single "Bright Eyes" (not on the US release) went to #1 in the UK, and powered the album to #2. Produced by Louie Shelton. (DBW)

One-Trick Pony (Simon: 1980)
Did Epstein-Barr exist in the late 70s? Simon certainly sounds like something has sapped his energy here: there are a ton of slow numbers ("Oh, Marion"; "That's Why God Made The Movies"; "Long, Long Day") with the jazzy changes that worked so well on Still Crazy. But here he doesn't come up with any real melodies, and you get the feeling he just asked his supertalented band (Levin, Tee, Gadd, Eric Gale, Joe Beck, McCracken, Hiram Bullock) to make up the tunes as they went along. The main exception is the single "Late In The Evening," an ephemeral if catchy tune with watered-down Latin percussion and horns. The good news is the lyrics, which cleverly describe the life of a middle-aged, road-weary, barely-getting-by musician: "God Bless The Absentee," "Oh Marion" and the title track are fascinating and filled with dark humor. If only he'd written music which did them justice. This album was the soundtrack for Simon's unsuccessful film of the same title; if it's as low-energy as this record, it's a must-miss. (DBW)

Scissors Cut (Garfunkel: 1981)
Another flop. Garfunkel put his solo career on hold for nearly a decade after this one. (JA)
I have this one too, and I'll review it someday. (DBW)

The Concert In Central Park (1982)
This short-lived reunion was a big surprise to me and a lot of people; it certainly looked like Simon had decided he had no more use for Garfunkel. And afterwards, in fact, Paul wiped Art's vocals from what was planned as a reunion studio album, but instead became Simon's next solo record (!). The track selection on this double LP includes a good smattering of Simon's solo hits ("Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover"), but is dominated by 60s material like "The Boxer" and "Mrs. Robinson." A cover of the 50's number "Wake Up Little Suzie" was released as a single. The band is Paul's standard lineup, although Levin had been replaced at this point by Anthony Jackson. (JA)

Hearts And Bones (Simon: 1983)
Here Simon started to drop the jazz-pop sound of the late 70s in favor of new wave and funk trappings. Other than the typically discursive single (title track, with vibes by Mike Mainieri), the track most recalling the Still Crazy period is the John Lennon tribute "The Late Great Johnny Ace," and even that ups its hipness quotient with a Phillip Glass orchestral coda. Elsewhere, there's funk bass from Marcus Miller and Anthony Jackson, percussion by Airo Moreira, and two tracks featuring Nile Rodgers: "Think Too Much" (also with Bernard Edwards) and "Cars Are Cars," a quirky number which uses a Linn drum machine and ends up sounding something like Thomas Dolby. The opening "Allergies" goes way overboard, with overbearing synth parts (by Rob Sabino and Rob Mounsey) and an out of place whiz-bang guitar solo courtesy of Al Di Meola. The strategy might have been successful if Simon had gotten the record out in 1981, but by 1983 New Wave was old hat, Chic was a dirty word, and this album tanked - his least successful solo album ever. Which is a shame, because there's actually a lot of good music here: "Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War" is a beautiful story song, "Song About The Moon" is a clever look at the songwriting process. If you're a fan, check it out - you should be able to find it real cheap. (DBW)
The title track was a single. Greg Phillinganes is among the guest musicians. (JA)

In 1985, Simon contributed vocals to "We Are The World." (DBW)

Graceland (Simon: 1986)
Pleasant collection of simple tunes derived from South African pop music. Made meaningful by pointed lyrics and the presence of several gifted South African musicians (Bhagiti Khumalo, bass; Ray Phiri, guitar; Ladysmith Black Mambazo, vocals) - he violated the anti-apartheid sanctions to make the record, giving good PR to Reagan's "constructive engagement" policy. The lyrics deal, as much of his post-60s work has, with the New York City of his youth, and the best songs ("Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes," "I Know What I Know," "Homeless") are brilliant. (DBW)
There's a heavy zydeco influence here ("That Was Your Mother") that's almost absent on the following record; that and a few other things hark back to Simon's 70s sound. Adrian Belew is on a few tracks, and other guests include Los Lobos ("All Around The World," with Steve Gadd) and Linda Rondstadt. (JA)

Lefty (Garfunkel: 1988)
I've seen this attempted comeback album in the stores several times, but never cheap enough to want to risk buying it. (JA)

The Rhythm Of The Saints (Simon: 1990)
The long-awaited and fully capable follow-up to Graceland. Half the tracks are A-side material - "The Obvious Child," "The Coast,""She Moves On," "Born At The Right Time," "Spirit Voices." An irresistable combination of African and South American rhythms defines the sound, with horns (the Brecker brothers; Hugh Masekela on one track) and crisp, repetitive lead guitars (Vincent Nguini; Ray Phiri on one track) floating over everything. There's even a zydeco accordion on "Born At The Right Time." Nguini is so harmonically gifted, and the rhythms are so smoothly sophisticated, that some of this unexpectedly recalls late-period King Crimson ("The Cool Cool River," with Nguini on guitar and bass). The lyrics are excellent but often obscure; the lead vocals are sometimes monotonic; and the groove is unwavering throughout the record. But if you like it, you'll really really like it. Guest stars include Adrian Belew, J. J. Cale, guitarist "Ringo Star" (huh?), and, on a few tracks, drummer Steve Gadd. And famous folkie Paul Simon also is said to appear somewhere, but who cares... (JA)

Paul Simon's Concert In The Park (Simon: 1991)
Features many of the musicians from Saints, in addition to Simon stalwarts like Steve Gadd (drums) and Richard Tee (keyboards). Simon & Garfunkel tunes form a small minority - three tracks that also are covered on the earlier Central Park record, plus "Cecilia." The Simon solo tunes are predictable too, with many of them again appearing on the earlier record, and the rest being the better tracks from the last two studio albums. I'm not sure why Paul thought it necessary to retread the earlier record; in his defense, perhaps he was motivated by the idea of capturing his brilliant, eclectic World Music band in action. And that's certainly enough incentive to track this down. (JA)

Songs From The Capeman (Simon: 1997)
Simon sings tunes from his shortlived Broadway show about a real-life teenage murderer, from his childhood in Puerto Rico through the 1959 killings in Manhattan and his subsequent imprisonment. Give him credit for trying something new, anyway. The music is a combination of doo-wop ("Adios Hermanos") and salsa (aided by Oscar Hernández), which is seriously out of place beside the relentlessly unpleasant subject matter ("Satin Summer Nights"). Most of the melodies are minimal; the acoustic "Can I Forgive Him" is the only composition that stands on its own; "The Vampires" is a heady, slow-moving groove, but even that's hard to listen to because of the violently vulgar lyrics (I'm amazed the disc didn't get a Parental Advisory sticker). Cast members Rubén Blades and Marc Anthony handle lead vocals on "Time Is An Ocean," and a few other background singers appear in small roles, but mostly it's Simon's show. Self-produced. (DBW)

You're The One (Simon: 2000)
An honest-to-goodness solo album, reportedly in the vein of his 70s work. (JA)
The core band is Khumalo, Nguini and Gadd plus Jamey Haddad and Steve Shehan (percussion), and on a few tracks they serve up the magical lilting polyrhythms of Saints ("Darling Lorraine"; "Hurricane Eye"). He pleasantly detours into country-western on "Pigs, Sheep And Wolves." But most of the time, all the varied instrumental colors - also including organ (Alain Mallet), bamboo flute (Steve Gorn) and a ton of weird stringed things (Mark Stewart) - have little to do, thanks to Simon's dour, dispirited tunes ("Love"; "That's Where I Belong")... All the percussion in the world can't cover up the world-weary moralizing of "Señorita With A Necklace Of Tears" or obvious sentiment of "Old." The lyrics are Simon's usual mix of nostalgia and alienation, but so plain-spoken they're not evocative or captivating (the concluding dirge "Quiet"). Self-produced; Andy Smith replaces long-time engineer Roy Halee. (DBW)

Surprise (Simon: 2006)
Simon isn't normally a trend-hopper, but for some reason he decided to tackle electronica. More curiously, he hedged his bets by commissioning "sonic landscapes" from techno-dinosaur Brian Eno rather than someone cutting-edge, and the result is half-baked, confused, unsatisfying, rambling, and pretty much any other negative adjective you can think of. The opening "How Can You Live In The Northeast?" establishes the parameters: over a repetitive loop, Simon emits spoken musings livened up with brief snatches of melody ("Outrageous") but no particular direction or structure. He seems to be upset about politics both global ("Wartime Prayers") and national ("Sure Don't Feel Like Love"), but has nothing much to say, jumping from one idea to another without finishing anything. Presumably that's the point, but Simon's made the whole "communication and introspection aren't everything they're cracked up to be" point so much more effectively over the years it's hard to give him much credit this time. The highlight has to be "Father And Daughter," which is maudlin and clichéd but is at least an actual song. Herbie Hancock plays piano on "Wartime Prayers"; Palladino, Gadd, Simon and Eno contribute most of the instruments. (DBW)

So Beautiful Or So What (Simon: 2011)
Simon returns from his jaunt to Weirdolandia with his now-standard Afro-influenced genteel pop, as comfortable and familiar as your oldest pair of jeans ("Getting Ready For Christmas Day"). A couple of songs break the mold: the downbeat "Love And Hard Times" and the relatively vigorous title track, with a prominent guitar line. Open-ended philosophical musings abound ("The Afterlife"; "Questions For The Angels"), though he generally retreats to vague, fluffy good vibes ("Love And Blessings"). There's not much to say about such a slight, "make no waves" piece of work, and it's always a bit disappointing to hear a major artist on cruise control, but there is one gorgeous song, "Dazzling Blue," which not only would have fit on Graceland, it would have been a standout. Produced by Simon and Phil Ramone. (DBW)

Oh yes, I'm homeward bound...

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