Scissors Cut, Art Garfunkel’s finest solo album, easily justifies his unfashionable formal approach to pop music by its sheer aural beauty. Garfunkel’s idea of arranging and recording pop numbers with a meticulousness that’s usually reserved for art songs has always been controversial. After all, how much instrumental weight can even the sturdiest pop tunes support before they start to cave in from too much symphonic seriousness? Judging from Scissors Cut, which is lush but light, the answer depends more on the quality than on the quantity of instrumentation. With the aid of strong songs and heartfelt singing, plus exquisite arrangements by Del Newman, David Campbell and other tasteful pop craftsmen, Garfunkel’s artifactual approach works splendidly here.
For years, Art Garfunkel has been the staunchest champion of Jimmy Webb, the pop Wunderkind who splashed his operatic signature all over Los Angeles music in the late Sixties before retreating into semiobscurity. Scissors Cut continues this fruitful composer performer relationship with three new compositions in which Garfunkel’s restrained folk-pop crooning and Webb’s headlong emotionality complement each other beautifully. Webb contributes the LP’s haunting title track, which compares a ménage à trois to a children’s game, while Del Newman’s arrangement weaves Garfunkel’s and Leah Kunkel’s contrapuntal vocals into an elegant string setting. “In Cars,” Webb’s bittersweet elegy to Sixties car culture, glows with Beach Boys-style harmonies (Paul Simon’s is one of the voices) and could well be his answer to Bruce Johnston’s “Disney Girls.”
Quite naturally, all of Garfunkel’s albums contain echoes of Simon and Garfunkel’s Sixties hits. On Scissors Cut, Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle’s acoustically based “A Heart in New York” not only recaptures the translucent texture of such Simon and Garfunkel classics as “America” but spices up the duo’s signature sound with a hot pinch of R&B saxophone. The rest of the songs — especially Jules Shear’s “So Easy to Begin,” Mike Batt’s “Bright Eyes” (a Number One hit for Garfunkel in England recently) and Clifford T. Ward’s “Up in the World” — make ideal vehicles for Art Garfunkel’s angelic delivery. He hasn’t sounded this good since “Bridge over Troubled Water.”