Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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PAUL SIMON
The Paul Simon Songbook
Columbia/Legacy

Long-unavailable folkie juvenilia from the much-honored composer-librettist of The Capeman

Whatever you think of Simon & Garfunkel, you have to admit that the constraints of angelic harmony undercut the quirks of Paul Simon's songwriting. Unfortunately, so does the folkie voice-and-strum of this U.K.-only 1965 collector's item, cut for the fan base Simon developed in London before S&G broke. The duo recorded most of these songs in the '60s, and recorded them better. Significantly, the three they skipped are all protest material: the outspoken "A Church Is Burning," a testy early version of "A Simple Desultory Philippic" and the genuinely rare antiwar sermon "The Side of a Hill." But Simon also suppressed the album for another reason: His true solo debut, 1972's Paul Simon, is about 10 times better.

Blender, May 2004