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An Early Document From aSeminal Songwriter (4.5 stars)
on 20 August 2004
I too had heard about the existence of these masters and, although I love and respect Paul Simon's body of work, did not think enough of it to check it out right away. Well ... I'm certainly sorry I waited as long as I have.
Listening to this CD will give you the kind of insight into an artist that you may only get from his or her private notebooks, a sense of looking at notes that may still change but were important enough to be written down when they were, a diary of a young man who must express the outrage or tenderness he's found in the world around him.
You don't have to be a completist or be writing a PhD dissertation on Simon, to own this CD. I'd argue that if you've never heard Simon & Garfunkel you may still be thanking your stars for having discovered the treasures that are included here.
This is not to say that the latter versions with Art Garfunkel are to be forgotten, of course, but that these takes ought to be listened to as the roots of the glorious recordings they created together. Actually, I'd go as far as to say that many of their classics would not be have been such without Artie's breathtaking voice.
This album is full of gems, played with a minimum of instrumentation and without any kind of pretentiousness. "I Am A Rock" sounds angrier and reveals an edge to the words I did not ever get from the famous duo's versions; "A Most Peculiar Man" and "Kathy's Song" are bound to thaw your heart; and "A Church Is Burning" or "A Simple Desultory Philippic" although naive, somewhat the sentimental fury of a young man, will move you with their honesty.
These are not outtakes, the often incomplete, unrealized stuff that gets added to reissued classic albums, that clearly proves why it was buried in vaults for a long time. This is an early album, a set of songs that was meant to be heard, by one of the most important singer-songwriters in popular music. Astute and tender, at times naive but not asleep to the times he witnessed as a young artist.