Paul Simon

Paul Simon aka Jerry Landis: Work in Progress, Vol. 1

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It's fairly well known that, before Simon & Garfunkel recorded their first album, Paul Simon had been releasing singles and doing Brill Building demos for several years, often using pseudonyms (including that of Jerry Landis). It's still not fully realized even by many serious Simon fans, however, just how often he recorded as a solo artist and how many songs he wrote prior to the mid-'60s. The three-volume Paul Simon aka Jerry Landis: Work in Progress series, on one hand, does scholars a great service by gathering much of this work in one place, taken not only from official (and very rare) singles but also previously unreleased demos. At the same time, it must be said that, given the surprisingly low level of the songwriting, this can only be recommended to fanatical Simon collectors. As with most of the pre-fame recordings of Lou Reed at Pickwick Records and Scott Walker as a teenager, you strain in vain to hear more obvious signs of the genius talent you know must be there, but of which precious little is audible. While the sound on most of these 34 tracks (a whopping 21 of them previously unreleased) is good and professional if a bit wanly arranged and played, the material is without exception trite late-'50s/early-'60s teen pop, shockingly juvenile lyrically and melodically formulaic and unmemorable. Simon's vocals are acceptably warm and clear, but on the whole these seem to prove that he simply wasn't cut out to be a successful Brill Building songwriter -- even if the immense pop smarts he'd bring to his great work as part of Simon & Garfunkel would seem to argue the contrary. As a nice surprise, two of the songs (both of which were officially released in the late '50s) are sung by Art Garfunkel under the pseudonym Artie Garr, and on "Dream Alone" you can hear his clear high vocals foreshadowing his excellent contributions to Simon & Garfunkel in that regard.