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Music Review: Paul Simon – The Paul Simon Songbook

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The short form of the liner notes goes something like this: In 1964, after the discouraging lack of success that met the first Simon & Garfunkel release, Paul Simon moved to England where he became part of the local folk music scene. He returned to the USA only after producer Tom Wilson got a hit single for the duo by adding overdubs to the original version of "The Sound of Silence" and the rest is history.

However, while in England, Simon had recorded an album simply called The Paul Simon Songbook. This album contains songs that would ultimately become mainstays of the Simon & Garfunkel canon, but here all the songs are stripped down to their most elemental form: a single voice and a guitar. It's essentially a folksinger's demo – no additional production, no angelically soaring vocal work by Garfunkel, no expectations of instant pop success – just the songs.

All hold up well and some actually sound more convincing in their starkness. "Patterns" itself is worth the price of the disc, but other eventually well-loved S&G works appear here as well, and in what some might say their purest form: "The Boxer," "The Sound of Silence," "A Church is Burning" and "I Am a Rock" are all prime examples of an artist's efforts to get the point of each song across quickly and effectively. Short and sweet, the original twelve songs, as well as two bonus alternate takes, total less than 40 minutes. But who likes padding anyway?

The only mystery here is why Paul Simon didn't reissue this album much sooner. It didn't see the modern world until 2004, nearly four decades after its original 1965 release. Perhaps it's a case of an artist being too close to his own work to see it for what it really is. In any case, it's an excellent supplement to the Simon & Garfunkel catalog and an essential cornerstone of Paul Simon's solo work.

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  • http://blogcritics.org/archives/2008/10/25/014237.php David Bowling

    Thanks for filling in a hole in my Simon & Garfunkel retrospective. Great review and an album I’ll have to find. -David

  • JC Mosquito

    It’s a good’un, David – I think you’ll enjoy it. And thanx to you for our S&G series – renewed my own interest.

  • Mike

    You mentioned “The Boxer” in your review above, but I’m assuming you meant a different song as I don’t think any version of “Songbook” contains “The Boxer”?

  • JC Mosquito

    Oops – thanx for the correction, and my apologies, Mike – it’s no excuse, but I wrote the first draft of that early in the AM, and though I noticed that error myself, I forgot to fix it while editing. Which is one of the reasions I don’t do this for a living, I guess.