Blessed with a beautifully ethereal voice, Art Garfunkel has suffered in his post-Paul Simon career because of a choice of songs and musical settings that mistake preciousness for subtlety. Happily, his new album remedies that problem. Nine of the 16 songs on Across America, which was recorded live last year, are Simon and Garfunkel classics, and the singer renders them with grace and a characteristically sublimated passion. If the album offers few new pleasures, hearing songs like “Scarborough Fair” and “Homeward Bound” in this context delivers the reassuring joy of running into old friends in a new place.
The title Across America refers to the walk across the country that Garfunkel completed during the course of 12 years, though it also derives meaning from the fact that these performances were recorded on Ellis Island. Beyond that, Garfunkel keeps his ambitions on this album aesthetic and personal. Small band arrangements, which include Michael Brecker’s tenor saxophone and Eric Weissberg’s guitar, mandolin and bass, provide sensitive support. Garfunkel’s wife, Kim Cermak Garfunkel, sings background vocals, and his young son, James, coos his way through “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).” James Taylor duets with Garfunkel on a lovely reading of Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Crying in the Rain.”
The high point, of course, is “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a song that Garfunkel has, uniquely in the Simon and Garfunkel canon, fully defined as his own. It’s not just the high note at the end, which Garfunkel handles easefully. The song’s themes of reconciliation and transcendence suit Garfunkel’s soul and lend his gentle virtues as a singer all the virtue and dignity of conviction.