Art Garfunkel “The Singer” (Columbia/Legacy)
Art Garfunkel and I have two things in common. We’re both alums of Forest Hills High School and we both got our undergraduate degrees at Columbia University. Of course, he can sing a lot better that I can. My ego can accept that truism because his ethereal voice is one of the best that has ever graced a recording. It’s not hubris that his just-released 34-song, 2-CD career retrospective is titled “The Singer.”
You can’t think of Art without thinking about his childhood buddy from Kew Garden Hills and on-and-off again performing partner, Paul Simon. While Artie has had a far longer career as a solo artist than he did as half of Simon & Garfunkel, there are plenty of original S&G tunes here, including the well-known “Sounds of Silence,” “Scarborough Fair” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” as well as more obscure tracks like “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her,” “Kathy’s Song,” “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” and “April Come, She Will.” Regrettably the dour 1975 hit, “My Little Town,” in which Paul Simon painted Queens as a dreary place populated by people with small minds, is here as well.
Few vocalists can consistently hit the upper octaves of the treble clef without breaking into falsetto. Garfunkel has always managed to pull it off, as evidenced by “Breakaway,” “A Heart in New York” and “99 Miles from LA,” a song cowritten by Hal David, who passed away this past September at the age of 91.
It’s somewhat ironic that Artie chose to omit his three biggest solo hits, the overly dramatic “For All I Know,” the lighthearted “I Shall Sing” and the heartbreaking “Second Avenue.” He did include a samba version of “Some Enchanted Evening.” While it is pleasant to listen to, it can’t hold a candle to the definitive Jay & the Americans’ 1965 hit rendition, which truly brought the “South Pacific” standard to life and to a younger audience.
The Beach Boys
“Fifty Big Ones” (Capitol)
One of the happier concert stories this past summer was the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary tour, in which the surviving key members — Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks — proved that age is no barrier to rock ’n’ roll. The guys sounded great and were on stage for well over two hours nightly, something most younger bands can’t even endure.
“Fifty Big Ones” is a clever play on the title of the 1976 Beach Boys album “15 Big Ones,” on which the guys celebrated their 15th anniversary with both original tunes and covers of their favorite rock songs. Carl Wilson’s vocal take on the Righteous Brothers’ “Just Once in My Life” was worth the price of the ’76 LP alone.
If you’ve been looking for the definitive Beach Boys’ greatest hits album, wait no longer. Name a Beach Boys hit and it’s here on this two-disc, 50-song compilation. Two songs recorded in 1965, “Please Let Me Wonder,” the best song ever written about having a crush on someone, and “Kiss Me, Baby,” a tune about the pain of having a blowout argument with your girlfriend and hoping to make up ASAP, finally take their rightful place on a Beach Boys “best of” album alongside “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “California Girls,” “Good Vibrations,” I Get Around,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and the like. This year’s Beach Boys comeback tune, “That’s Why God Made The Radio,” is here as well. Regrettably their terrific 1986 cover of the Mamas & Papas’ “California Dreaming,” which received substantial airplay on both radio and MTV back in the day, is not here.
“Live + In Performance” (Shout Factory)
Much as George “Superman” Reeves’ death in 1959 has remained a mystery all these years, so has rhythm and blues singer Donny Hathaway’s fatal fall from his hotel room at the Essex House in 1979. Investigators ruled it a suicide, but many wondered, since his career was on an upswing.
Hathaway is best known to pop music fans for a pair of hit duets that he did with Roberta Flack, 1972’s “Where Is The Love?” and 1978’s romantic “The Closer I Get to You.” While he never achieved the chart success as a solo artist that he did as Flack’s partner, Hathaway was idolized by such legends as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye for both his expressive vocalizing and composing abilities.
This twin-disc live album of Hathaway performing his interpretations of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” and “I’ll Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” — written by Blood, Sweat & Tears founding member Al Kooper, who grew up in Hollis — combined with his own songs, “The Ghetto” and “We Need You Right Now,” shows why he was lionized and still very much missed.