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The Sunday Conversation: Art Garfunkel finds his voice again

After vocal cord issues sidelined him for two years, the Rock Hall of Fame veteran is back with a new compilation album and a tour.

September 16, 2012|By Irene Lacher, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Singer Art Garfunkel at his home in Manhattan, NY.
Singer Art Garfunkel at his home in Manhattan, NY. (Jennifer S. Altman / For…)

Art Garfunkel's latest album, "The Singer," includes two new tracks — "Lena" and "Long Way Home" — as well as 32 songs from his long career as a solo performer and half of the groundbreaking duo Simon & Garfunkel. After voice troubles forced him to cancel a 2010 Simon & Garfunkel tour and take a two-year hiatus, the 70-year-old husband and father of two returns to touring as a solo act in Sweden, the Northeast and the Midwest this month.

This is your first album since you recovered from vocal cord paresis. What happened exactly?

I did a show at the end of January 2010 in Nicaragua, Managua, of all places. I brought my son [James], who sings great. We did what you call a private. Signor Gomez booked me to sing at his house with all these lovely guests. I thought the show was routine, but when I flew home, something about that gig caused me to start having vocal cord trouble. That which is fine and sensitive in my midrange, which is my life, suddenly became crude and unmanageable. I had a good high range still and my low notes were good, but all the tenderness of the midrange became crude, insensitive. And I went into a state of tragedy — me and my voice have been best friends since I was 5. I don't know who I am without the voice. I have to figure who I am besides a loving husband and a loving father. And then I noticed slowly, slowly it is improving. On frequent visits to the doctor, pictures of the throat show that it is mending, but, boy, is it slow. I had planned to work with Paul [Simon] and do a Simon & Garfunkel tour. I underestimated how long the mending process was, something I'm sure Paul Simon did not enjoy.

Then you start singing with your iPod. I sing to James Taylor. He's such a fine, sensitive singer with so much heart. And I'm practicing getting the unison sound back in shape. Early this year, I'd get on stage even if the house was empty, so you have microphone, reverb, speakers, see how you do. It finally comes, bring in the audience. I'll work for no money, under the radar. Let me try a few shows, so I'll deal with adrenaline. And all these stages leading to today are very promising. I walk across continents, you know, and I'm walking across Europe in installments. I'm going from Ireland to Istanbul, and I've done 95% over the years. I flew to Thessaloniki [Greece] two weeks ago. I picked up my walk, I was singing my ass off and my voice was spot-on.

I gambled on setting up a whole — you call it a tour, I call it back to work.

Good luck.

God is very much a player in all of this. I feel strong, but as it gets to the real show, nervous energy has me going through a thing.

Was your new album, "The Singer," an answer to Paul's "Songwriter" album last year?

I think he got wind of my title.

So this album has been in the works for a while?

You bet. I go into the studio in the Village, with my friend Matt Craig, a young studio engineer with great skills on the board. Because it was so nice working with Matt, I kept putting up this make-believe album and sequencing it and stroking it and finessing it until it had a real identity.

And what was your concept?

The concept is, if I never make another album, this is what I did with music while I was here. Put together the best of those lovely nights when the voice was on and the musicians were really grooving and keep the focus always on where did I sing most artfully. And I believe I have the best ear to judge Artie Garfunkel when he's doing his job. I went to, for example, my album, "Lefty." It came out in '87. It has a song, "The Promise." I love the lyric — it's very much a mature love valentine. And I thought the singing was nice — rich, throaty baritone range — and because of that, it went into the CD. You can't not include hits that I've had: "A Heart in New York," "Bright Eyes," "I Only Have Eyes for You," so you have to put the obvious. What's most interesting about the album is it's the first time I'm coupling the Artie Garfunkel career with the Simon & Garfunkel career. So it's my vote for the both of these things. Now there's no "Cecilia," because I went to the Simon & Garfunkel repertoire and leaned on those songs where I'm prominent. That makes "Scarborough Fair" a candidate, "For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her." On the "Old Friends" tour, I did "Kathy's Song" with Paul playing magnificent guitar.

Initially you were planning on having twice as many Simon & Garfunkel songs. Why did you reduce them from 16 to eight?

It's record company stuff, and it's my esteemed … do I call him ex-partner or partner? His vote's in on it because there's his voice, so I can't operate as a one-man show. So it became a case of the record company wants to save some of the Simon & Garfunkel winners like "The Boxer" for another release. It's commerce, it's Sony figuring out what's going to come down the line and let's not spend it on Artie's album kind of thing.

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