Late in the evening

The legacy of Simon and Garfunkel still shines true

A hearty serving of live recordings rounds out this set, along with such genuine previously unissued oddities--and I do mean oddities--as these two Jewish performers singing Christmas carols, and quite beautifully, I must add. On the live tracks, the verve and potency of this dynamic duo's performances are positively bracing, though Garfunkel's stage raps do verge dangerously close to being unctuous. And it's certainly a kick to hear them deliver picture-perfect takes on such Everlys material as "Bye, Bye Love" and "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine."

That's the thread that binds it all together: those two voices in an almost heavenly blend. The avid and always informative boxed-set annotator David Fricke reveals here that S&G often double-tracked their vocals to enhance the infectious combination, yet their singing in live performance here is just as vibrant as the studio selections (this also holds true on their Central Park reunion concert, which would have made a nice fourth disc to this set, but was released by another record company). By combining the backwoods harmonizing they nicked from the Everlys with an urbane, literate consciousness, Simon & Garfunkel fashioned a rara avis in pop music--a distinct artistic signature that roamed through a raft of styles, an approach whose influence has remained persistent even if few have ever attempted to duplicate their particular approaches and patterns.

Spinning through the discs of Old Friends, one starts to savor the multiple entendre inherent in the title (one gets the feeling that Art Garfunkel spends countless hours waiting for Simon to call, which he rarely does. "Why Don't You Write Me" indeed). For anyone familiar with the pop and rock legacy I happened to grow up with, many of these songs are landmarks (or at least benchmarks) on the road to the future. But nearly two decades after Simon & Garfunkel split up, these old friends also play like friends made anew. The reacquaintance reveals forgotten or heretofore undiscovered facets to Simon's songs, the duo's harmonies, and their savvy and sophisticated recordings--which is the fondest wish one might ask for with these sorts of collections.

So even if Simon & Garfunkel were never truly hip, they nonetheless captured a more-populist (and certainly pop) vision of their times, compared with others whose freak flag flew more proudly but today looks rather tattered as it flaps in the wind of retrospect. And the bonus to this set is how it proves that Simon & Garfunkel were actually pretty cool, and are probably even more so now with the perspective of time. The best tracks here are more than just old friends, but rather reliable musical companions that pop out of the past to surprise and delight you, maybe more like old lovers who still have some new tricks to show.

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