Art for Art’s Sake, our song-by-song walk through the Seventies oeuvre of Art Garfunkel, continues apace.
When the kindest thing you can say about a song is that Jorge Milchberg’s charango has never been so sensitively presented, that’s probably a sign to stop typing.
But I made a promise to say something about each song in Art Garfunkel’s catalog … so here we are on side two of Angel Clare, coming down from the high of “All I Know” to the melancholy folk-picking of “Mary Was An Only Child.”
It actually ain’t as bad as I make it sound. Art sings with a quiet intensity that doesn’t come through on some of Angel Clare’s folkier numbers.
The “Scarborough Fair”-style countermelody is a welcome addition; it reminds you who you’re listening to without being bluntly imitative.
The message (as I understand it) — to look for the divine in everyone and everything, even the downtrodden — makes sense enough.
And Jorge Milchberg’s charango — it’s one of those plunky little Latin American guitars made from the shells of armadillos — will satisfy even the most devoted charango aficionado.
(Supposedly, session legend Tommy Tedesco plays bouzouki here, as well. Growing up, I used to read Tedesco’s column in Guitar Player magazine, where he revealed his secrets to getting calls on odd instruments: Tune them all like guitars, and think like a bouzouki player. Worked fine here.)
It might be that my mental block against “Mary Was An Only Child” stems entirely from the word “Jesus.” I have kind of a hair trigger when it comes to religion, and it doesn’t take much Jesus to start feeling preachy to me, particularly in contexts involving human failure or weakness (“you might have seen Jesus, and not have known what you saw.”)
The use of the name “Mary” for the unappreciated young girl also makes me feel like I’m being hit over the head with homilies. My feelings toward the song might be different had the poor lass been given a less dramatically Biblical name.
Garfunkel’s arrangement also contains a couple of detractive musical missteps, like the way the horns step on and blot out Art’s first countermelody (the one appearing after the line “If you watch the stars at night”), or the curiously buried outpourings of Spanish on the fade-out (what’s that about, anyway?)
In that big 1973 Rolling Stone interview I keep referring to, our man says about his arrangements: “There’s a lot of things all over the album. Didn’t Orson Welles say that a child’s best toy is a movie studio? That’s what it’s like.” On this track, it’s possible that Art should have left a toy or two in the box.
Not the charango, though. Dude’s wailin’.