Aztec Two-Step: Time It Was –The Simon and Garfunkel Songbook

Aztec Two-Step
Time It Was –The Simon and Garfunkel Songbook
Rating: ★★★½☆
Red Engine

Broadcaster Pete Fornatale says Simon and Garfunkel raised rock n roll’s IQ back in the day. On Time It Was -– The Simon and Garfunkel Songbook, he joins Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman to justify the statement and remind S and G fans just how true it is. Aztec Two-Step literally sing the praises of the ’60s’ iconic duo on this live recording, complete with narration by progressive FM pioneer Fornatale (of “Mixed Bag,” heard on WFUV-FM in New York and XM Satellite Radio). 18 songs – both hits and deep cuts – are cut with enough tidbit trivia and speculation about the many facets and colors of Simon’s songwriting to satisfy devotees. As Fornatale says, Simon toted a “bag full of great songs,” which could be light-hearted and G-rated, but then root into the underbelly of America’s woes and joys.

It goes without saying that Aztec Two-Step are not Simon and Garfunkel; Fowler and Shulman harmonize and emphasize differently, and their voices pack a bolder and brassier punch. But the changes in their inflections and the contrast of their voices at times make lyrics more pronounced, and Shulman’s acoustic mastery bring a new perspective to old favorites. Minus Simon and Garfunkel’s ghostly vocals, upbeat cuts like “59th Street Bridge Song” are more convincing in Aztec Two-Step’s breezy, poppy style. They still portray the yearning of “Homeward Bound,” and their downplayed version of “Mrs. Robinson” is nevertheless infectious. The windy plucking of “Old Friends” provides the same comfort. A beautiful rendition of “The Sound of Silence” transitions seamlessly into the haunting “Scarborough Fair,” made less eerie in the absence of Simon and Garfunkel’s breathy, ethereal harmonies. Aztec Two-Step bring their predecessors’ airy harmonies down to earth, but still convey the simplistic beauty of every song in a warbling, sunny style. Even the album cover almost resembles a child’s coloring book, brightly splashed with symbols of flower power.

Between songs, Fowler, Shulman and Fornatale discuss the lights and darks of Paul Simon, reminiscing about his appearance on Saturday Night Live to sing “Still Crazy After All These Years” clad in a turkey costume, as well as the brilliance of the quiet and desperate 1968 hit “America.” As they touch on topics such as American standards and where the seeds of every song are sown, they remind how Simon and Garfunkel’s music wrapped powerful affirmations into small packages, and offer small windows into their generation.