Saturday, January 28, 2012

Paul Simon 1: The Paul Simon Songbook

This album was always a curio, recorded completely solo in London between the first two Simon & Garfunkel albums, and unavailable for the better part of thirty years on the directive of the artiste. He eventually got over it, and now we can wonder what the problem was. After all, hasn’t Paul Simon spent most of his career downplaying his partner’s superior voice and its importance to his songs?
Besides providing alternate versions of what would become several established Simon & Garfunkel favorites, The Paul Simon Songbook presents what was likely his repertoire whilst pounding the cobblestoned streets of London. Two songs had already appeared on the duo’s debut, five would be re-recorded for their second album, and four others would appear in some form on their third. For the pop music student, these are fascinating unplugged demos, and even works in progress.
The actual performances aside, it’s the truly rare material that makes this album so enticing. “A Church Is Burning” is an original protest song, and a good one, not to be confused with “The Sun Is Burning” on the S&G debut. They would perform it in occasional concerts, but for many years this was the only recording ever. “The Side Of A Hill” is mostly unknown, except that several lines would be reworked and used as a counterpoint to the main melody of “Scarborough Fair”. Similarly, “A Simple Desultory Philippic” here substitutes Lyndon Johnson for Robert McNamara in the spoken intro, and sports a markedly different accompaniment, mostly based on “Wake Up Little Susie” with a little “It’s Alright Ma” thrown in. The bridge still apes Dylan, but most of the people throughout the song would be replaced by other, dare we say better, and certainly more recognizable references.
It’s tempting to give The Paul Simon Songbook a higher rating, but only for the novelty of it. Each of the songs are arguably better in their more familiar, arranged incarnations; now that it’s universally available, even in the US of A, complete with two alternate takes, listeners can judge for themselves.

Paul Simon The Paul Simon Songbook (1965)—
2004 CD reissue: same as 1965, plus 2 extra tracks

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