Paul Simon

Paul Simon aka Jerry Landis: Work in Progress, Vol. 3

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The third and final volume of this series -- which excavates about 100 tracks in which Paul Simon was involved prior to the release of Simon & Garfunkel's first album -- is far and away the best of the three, as over half of it finds him finally starting to explore the folk direction that S&G would pursue on their initial releases. That does mean that the earlier tracks on this 33-song CD (27 of them previously unreleased, and one of them sung by Artie Garr, an early pseudonym for Art Garfunkel) share the same flaws as the previous two volumes, as Simon at that point was still trying to be a Brill Building pop/rock songwriter, and falling far below the standards of contemporaries such as Carole King. Yet some ways into the disc, after a few mediocre early-'60s-style teen pop tunes (more than one of which seems to be trying to emulate Dion & the Belmonts' "A Teenager in Love"), a change occurs, and the Simon listeners know suddenly, finally starts to recognizably emerge. The folk-rooted songs, if mostly not close to the level of Simon & Garfunkel's best work, simply sound far more assured and distinctive, if much more traditional in tone than what they'd play post-"Sounds of Silence." Even Simon's singing becomes decidedly more confident and creative, though it's obviously the same guy who sang on the pop/rock tracks dating from not long before. Of special interest are early unreleased versions of a couple songs that crop up on the first Simon & Garfunkel LP, "Sparrow" and "He Was My Brother" (and another, "Side of a Hill," that Simon would put on his mid-'60s solo album). Also noteworthy are some early, if not too successful, indications of his future eclecticism, with the odd "One-Two-Three" getting into smooth bossa nova, and other tunes (like "Aeroplane of Silver Steel" and "Zombie Jamboree") into Latin, sometimes calypso-like rhythms. There's even a Spanish tune, "Coplas," and a rendition of the children's song "Bingo" with Art Garfunkel helping out. Taken together, the three volumes of this archival and almost certainly unauthorized series seem to argue -- if only inadvertently -- that a growing interest in folk music was the catalyst that somehow unlocked Simon's creative gifts, elevating him from Brill Building hack to folk-rock giant. On a more basic level, the folk tracks here, if a little primitive compared to Simon & Garfunkel's official output, aren't at all bad listening, making this disc the only volume of this series that even die-hard Paul Simon fans are likely to play repeatedly and for pleasure.