Art Garfunkel

Some Enchanted Evening

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There is a strangeness that is nearly otherworldly in hearing Art Garfunkel -- half of one of the most enduring duo's in rock's history books -- singing pop standards. Garfunkel was primarily a harmony vocalist in his duo with Paul Simon, but it was that voice that added authority and excitement to their recordings. His own solo records have been less successful, perhaps because he was a never a songwriter per se, though he has written. On 2002's Everything Waits to Be Noticed, he worked with Maia Sharp and Buddy Mondlock and the result was deeply satisfying. Some Enchanted Evening's material is most appealing because it is so well known and has been interpreted by some of the greatest singers in history -- Sinatra, Bennett, Washington, Fitzgerald, Vaughan, just to name a few -- and it's also the most treacherous. Let's face it, Rod Stewart's multi-volume Great American Songbook series sold well, but it was a critical and musical disaster because he has no idea how to phrase these songs: he sounded like a rock vocalist trying to swing (and he didn't pull it off at all.) Here, Garfunkel claims in a liner comment that he is "under the sway of two magnificent singers: Chet Baker and Johnny Mathis." OK. But he has neither Baker's dryly vulnerable restraint nor Mathis' grand sense of drama. Garfunkel tries a naturalist approach to songs by Johnny Mercer ("I Remember You"), George & Ira Gershwin ("Someone to Watch Over Me"), Harold Arlen ("Let's Fall in Love"), Antonio Carlos Jobim ("Quiet Nights" [aka "Corcovado"]); Lerner & Loewe ("I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face"), Irving Berlin ("What'll I Do"), and Rodgers & Hammerstein ("If I Loved You"); and that's only about half. The first three alone are, for all their beauty, barbed wire fences with lipstick and perfume traces left on their pointed spires. Perhaps it's also why Garfunkel wrote on another panel "It wasn't Monet, it was France..." In other words, he was seduced by both the dreamy nature of the material, and its magical, love-soaked melodic and lyric lines as well as his being spellbound by the two previously mentioned singers. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the voice to pull this off. His sense of subtlety is too prevalent here. His voice lacks that phrasing that Baker's had, where he sang like he played trumpet. The subtlety in Baker's delivery was vulnerability that had an edge. Here, Garfunkel's so soft , one could crush his voice and, worse yet, the song, in an alley. His breathy delivery is also fraught with a kind of unwelcome rawness that contributes to his lack of authority. Check the break and crack in "I'm So Glad There Is You." There are a few places here where his singing fits the material or brings something new to it: on "Quiet Nights," his softness is exactly what the song demands, a whisper nearly from the one who articulates not only lyric, but the rhythm. The best performance on the album is in "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," where Garfunkel sings clear and true; there's no smoke or whisper in the grain of his voice, just the way the material finds its way inside him and he lets it out naturally, without artifice. The other nagging flaws here are the arrangements: the strange pedal steel guitar (played by Dean Parks), with the synth strings and woodwinds are just awful; the drum loops on "You Stepped Out of a Dream," and the weird, weird weird synth bass on "Some Enchanted Evening." What these arrangements do is force the singer into a different place, one full of smoke and mirrors where the tune isn't there, just its framework, leaving too much weight on the vocalist to bring it all together. Art Garfunkel is, when he wants to be, a singular vocalist who possesses gentleness, power and emotional authenticity, when he wishes to. It is almost totally absent on Some Enchanted Evening.

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