Art Garfunkel Gives Voice to Family Music

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

In the minds of the baby-boomer generation, Art Garfunkel is inextricably connected to Paul Simon. From the mid-'60s to 1970, the duo earned five Grammy Awards and recorded a remarkable repertoire of memorable tunes. When the two parted company, Simon took the more ambitious, creative, and high-profile route to musical superstardom.

Garfunkel, however, has quietly gone down his own path over the past 2-1/2 decades - writing poetry, acting, and completing a 12-year walk across America, which culminated in a concert at Ellis Island in April 1996 (which the Disney Channel taped for television and recording release). He also has recorded a number of solo albums, mostly fairly personal and introspective offerings that have met with only modest success.

One of Garfunkel's most recent musical projects, which takes an even more personal turn, is a new recording on Sony Wonder's Family Artist Series that taps into the singer's experiences as the parent of a six-year-old. Entitled "Songs From a Parent to a Child," the recording features an adventurous selection of tunes sung by Garfunkel with guest appearances by son James and wife Kim Cermak as well as musical luminaries Billy Preston, Merry Clayton, and John Sebastian.

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It's a project very close to Garfunkel's heart. "I want parents to feel the magnificent poetry that a child represents," Garfunkel explains. "I would like them to feel the wonder of it. When you look at your sleeping child, you think what is he, what did we give him, and what will he become?"

"Songs From a Parent to a Child" is kind of a lullaby/inspirational recording for the post-nursery set. It's nicely produced without overkill in the arrangements - the voice and the words themselves are clear, and there is nothing especially clever or hip in these renditions. It is a heartfelt and sincere offering, engaging if not particularly memorable, and characterized by Garfunkel's trademark soft, airy vocal style. Though it is an older voice than in decades past, it is still sweet and moving.

Most effective are the fairly simple renditions of those beautiful children's tunes that bring a tear to the eye with their "heart on a sleeve" directness, like the luminous "Lasso the Moon" and Mary Chapin Carpenter's poetic "Dreamland," with its mandolin accompaniment. Garfunkel soars in the pure harmonies (with Cermak) of the waltz "Who's Gonna Shoe." And James Taylor's gorgeous, potent "The Secret of Life," given a straightforward interpretation, is an inspired inclusion, as is Sebastian's Lovin' Spoonful classic "Daydream." Garfunkel joins Sebastian for a sunny imitation of the original, replete with whistling chorus.

"Morning Has Broken" is given a fairly brisk rendition flavored by Preston's gospel-tinged piano and colorfully shifting harmonies reminiscent of "Bridge Over Troubled Water." In contrast, "Baby Mine," the heartbreakingly tender lullaby Dumbo's mother sings in the Disney film, is given an inappropriate jazzy feel that undermines the song's poignancy. "Good Luck Charm" is the only trace of parental self-indulgence, featuring Garfunkel's son, James, in an unconvincing rendition of the Elvis classic.

Though the powerful "The Lord's Prayer" seems a slightly overemotional inclusion, given the low-key tenor of the rest of the musical choices, Garfunkel segues right into "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep." It's clear this is the kind of message he hopes to impart in these "Songs From a Parent to a Child."

"While I made this album for families, I'm not sure I know how to define 'family music,' " Garfunkel says. "To me, music is music. Family music is all the good stuff - everything that is great about music and can be loved and shared together. And yet, I stayed very true to the notion that we are always singing to a family so that parents can give the gift of music to their kids."

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