Simon & Garfunkel's second album was a radical departure from their first (Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.), owing to its being recorded in the wake of "The Sound of Silence" single, with its overdubbed electric instrument backing, topping the charts. Paul Simon arrived with a large songbag, enhanced by his stay in England over the previous year and his exposure to English folk music (and the work of Martin Carthy and Davy Graham, among others), and the duo rushed into the studio to come up with ten more songs that would fit into the folk-rock context of the single. The result was this, their most hurried and uncharacteristic album -- Simon and Art Garfunkel had to sound like something they weren't, surrounded on many cuts by amplified folk-rock-style guitar, electric piano, and even horns. Much of the material came from The Paul Simon Songbook, an album that Simon had recorded for British CBS during his stay in England, some parts of it more radically altered than others. "Kathy's Song" and "April Come She Will," two of the most personal songs in Simon's output, were close to the stripped-down originals, and among the most affecting (as opposed to affected) folk-style records of their era; Simon's rendition of Davy Graham's folk-blues instrumental "Anji" is also close to his British version, just recorded hotter, while "Leaves That Are Green" is pleasantly ornamented with electric harpischord and features a more prominent rhythm guitar; "Blessed," by contrast, is given a dissonant electric guitar accompaniment that sounds like the Byrds trying very hard to annoy people.
Some of the rest, like "Somewhere They Can't Find Me" and "We've Got a Groovy Thing Goin'," show Simon & Garfunkel sounding more like the Cyrkle later did, with a smooth, hip dual persona far removed from the thoughtful innocence of "April Come She Will" or "Kathy's Song." The record was a rushed job overall, and, apart from the title track, the most important songs here were also, oddly enough, among the least enduring, including "I Am a Rock" and "Richard Cory" -- the former for establishing the duo (and Simon as a songwriter) as confessional pop poets, sensitive and alienated post-adolescents that endeared them to millions of college student going through what later came to be called an "identity crisis" (you had to be there to understand it), and the latter for endearing them to thousands of high school English teachers with its adaptation of Edward Arlington Robinson's poem. Other folk artists, including Phil Ochs, had adapted well-known poems to music, but it was Simon & Garfunkel's effort that took in the classrooms of the era, getting played, discussed and studied at the behest of English teachers who were desperate for anything that would interest and motivate their students -- even if the kids thought it was a joke, it beat reading straight poetry, and the response to "Richard Cory" was kind of radical in the context of the time, when music played on electric instruments wasn't welcomed of even tolerated in most school settings. It earned Simon & Garfunkel a passport to middle-class respectability in official and establishment circles that Bob Dylan, the Beatles, et al., did not yet have. The August 2001 remastering restores the original, uncensored back-cover art (depicting Art Garfunkel holding what the powers-that-were later decided was a decidedly uncool copy of Tiger Beat magazine, airbrushed out of later copies), and also features the first genuinely good sound ever heard on any CD edition of this album, and also includes four bonus tracks. Jackson C. Frank's "Blues Run the Game" (which also appears on the Old Friends box) is the best of them, an acoustic number that offers a more mature folk style, and might have slotted in stylistically on the Sounds of Silence album, except that it fit neither the mood of innocent discovery nor the youthful poet posturing that dominated the rest of the record. "Barbriallen" is a throwback to the duo's Everly Brothers-influenced folk style off their first LP, while "Rose of Aberdeen" is a pleasant if inconclusive example of Simon adapting English folk music, and "The Roving Gambler" is a sweetly sung echo of the folk revival of which Simon & Garfunkel had briefly been a part, outdoing the Everlys (and, for that matter, the Easy Riders) at their own game. Add another half-star to rate the value of the 2001 reissue, for sound and "Blues Run the Game." ~ Bruce Eder