Art Garfunkel, Breakaway

I cut my musical teeth on a set of Simon and Garfunkel albums my parents bought for me, and after Bridge Over Troubled Waters spelled their official end it seemed to me that Art Garfunkel sort of faded away then, down the memory hole as one of those trivia questions that comes up in party games. On one of my trips along the Sierras years ago I picked up a copy of "Breakaway," the first Art Garfunkel solo album I'd ever listened to, in a record store as something to hum along with in the car. And like Paul Simon went onto his own kind of solo greatness, at least for a glimmer (plus-minus its follow-on, Watermark) the duo were even better apart than they ever had been together. Garfunkel was not a songsmith, and wisely sings other people's material, but his earnest, clear voice makes up for it: you could easily dismiss songs like his stunning redo of "I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)" as the most obvious sort of cheap schmaltz if it weren't him singing it. Driving through the endless high desert, miles from nowhere, his shining voice brought back ex-girlfriends ("Looking For The Right One") and promises of someone to come home to one day ("99 Miles From LA"), of endless love lost and regained, of knowingness and emptiness all the same as he looks at the camera somehow together and separate from the wine, women and cigarettes on the cover. If there are two low spots, they are "Disney Girls," which only the Beach Boys original did well, and only once, and peculiarly "My Little Town," whose grimness contrasted okay on Paul Simon's solo outing but not here as the naïve heartache of the other tracks clashes with its depressive cynicism (and a marvel of inter-label cooperation that Columbia and Warner Bros could sell us the same song twice). Every time I listen to this album, I am in the backwaters again, miles of road ahead, miles of road behind, a voice ringing out through the ages to remind me that the next time I love, it will be forever. (Content: no concerns.)