Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Art Garfunkel's "Break Away" & Non-Canonical Yacht Rock

Discovering non-canonical yacht rock songs is one of the true and distinct pleasures of searching for music. While it's always interesting to re-discover the familiar songs of the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, and the rest of the giants of the 70's soft rock pantheon, it's a far rarer and more delightful treat to come across a song that, given my age, has passed me by or never even got the chance to. The titular track from Art Garfunkel's second solo album, Break Away is just such a song. Penned by Gallagher & Lyle, the Scottish songwriting duo who also wrote A Heart in New York, which Simon & Garfunkel sang at their concert in Central Park. (Garfunkel's version sounds like Chicago, incidentally.)

Art Garfunkel's voice doesn't crack here or warble, an affectation that served him well in his songs with Paul Simon, but marred some of his solo work. I'm thinking specifically of the verses in I Believe (When I Fall in Love it Will be Forever), which is far too insistent a song to fall under the rubric of yacht rock. More a raft caught in a squall, than the pleasurecrafting of Break Away.

Guests on Garfunkel's "Break Away" album include Paul Simon, Toni Tennille of Captain & Tennille, Graham Nash & David Crosby, & Beatles-friend & former Manfred Mann member Klaus Voorman.

What are the qualities of a yacht rock song, good or bad? Obviously, from the great television show of the same name, we can find out that it's the smoothness of the sound and generally written and performed by a group of associated musicians in Southern California during the 70's, but this song doesn't fit that description and yet it's definitely yacht rock. The jazz-inflection, the presence of a Rhodes piano, vocal harmonies, an easy and gentle tempo: these are a few of the obvious signifiers.

Does The Black Ghosts It's Your Touch count as a contemporary yacht-rock song? I'd generally say not, though it's certainly smoother. Closer to Sade and Zima commercials, though. The Black Ghosts is a bizarre Hammer Horror British Noirist recording project from Simon Lord of Simian Mobile Disco and Theo Keaitng of The Wiseguy. I don't know how I feel about this song, really. I liked the sound and the production (it certainly reminds me of Phoenix) but the vocals lag and commit the familiar British crime of the Pitch Shift Whine that annoys me about Muse, Radiohead, and Elbow, to cite a few of the major offenders.

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