Bridge Over Troubled Water

Simon & Garfunkel

Columbia, 1970

REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones


For a duo that was experiencing interpersonal strife and on the verge of a break-up, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel still proved that they could produce a real gem.  1970’s Bridge Over Troubled Water was by far the best quality and most consistent record they produced together, and it makes a true fan and music lover wish they had overcome their differences to do it all over again.  By 1970, Simon & Garfunkel had become touchstones in the folk rock arena.  But Bridge Over Troubled Water was more than a folk rock record.  It was a stellar studio production and a showcase of some of Simon’s best songwriting.  In some songs, the hints of what would become Simon’s reincarnation in world music can be heard. 

The opening and title track starts with a powerful gospel piano introduction that immediately sets this album apart from any other Simon & Garfunkel project.  Beginning slow and building to a high crescendo that has Art Garfunkel singing in the rafters, this tune raises goosebumps and the vocal register and the strings go ever higher and higher.  From this high perch, we fall into a soft, lilting mandolin tremolo that introduces “El Condor Pasa (If I Could),” which is a Peruvian folk song backed by the Peruvian group Los Incas.  It is the first glimpse fans got into Simon’s world music future.

"Cecilia" is also drenched in a world music sound because of its percussiveness.  Every instrument – from acoustic guitar, to hand clapping, to xylophone to piano – acts as percussion over a catchy melody.   While “Cecilia” appears minimalist in its instrumentation, even sounding sonically crude, the song is impressively complex and matched the full sound that the rest of the album achieves.  “Keep The Customer Satisfied” and “Baby Driver” are very similar songs.  They have each have excellent rhythm and infectious melodies.  The punch and pertinence of the brass section in “Customer” will penetrate your brain, almost like the cacophony of demanding customer that Simon is singing about (for a song ostensibly written about the grind of touring and production in the music business, this is particularly appropriate).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

As if the album needed songs more beautiful than "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Simon wrote “The Boxer” and "The Only Living Boy in New York."  “The Boxer” was the first song recorded that ended up on the album and was released as a single nearly a full year before the album.  While sounding demure and soft before building to a powerful final chorus of “lie-lie-lie,” the twin finger picked guitars, played by Simon and Fred Carter, Jr. are astoundingly gorgeous (take a listen with headphones).  "The Only Living Boy in New York" is another lovely song whose “ah” refrain is rich and full enough on its own to have been used in a 2011 Honda commercial.  Paul Simon’s artificially double tracked lead vocals, with one track panned hard right and the other left, make it another fun song for the headphones.

While "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" could just as well be a throw away, the humorous "Why Don't You Write Me" which would appear to be, is not.  The final two songs, “Bye Bye Love” and “Song For The Asking,” are perfect for bringing the Simon & Garfunkel collaboration full circle, from their youth and early career inspired by the Everly Brothers to a quiet song assuring the listener that he will play and you will take the love the song offers.  Even though the duo has not given the world new material since this album, their several reunion concert appearances have kept audiences asking over and over again. 

Producers are sometimes easy to over look, but Roy Halee cannot escape mention in this review.  Halee produced the record along with Simon and Garfunkel, and much of the full sound and nuanced production can be attributed to his keen sonic sense and technical ability.  He had the talent as a producer (and engineer) to bring out what Simon wanted in his tracks.  And that is one of the greatest successes of Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Rating: A-

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© 2012 Curtis Jones and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia, and is used for informational purposes only.