"What-if" scenarios are sometimes intriguing. For example, what if producer Tom Wilson at Columbia Records hadn't thought to put a rock band overdub on an obscure song called "The Sound of Silence" from an equally obscure debut album by a folk duo called Simon & Garfunkel? Would the songs that were on that duo's hit single-propelled second album ever have gotten heard by the public at large? I suspect that the answer is a definite maybe, because Paul Simon's first official solo album, THE PAUL SIMON SONGBOOK, is actually pretty good in many ways. It has to be heard in context not only to what we know about Paul Simon now, but also in context to the time it was made. Sensitive folkies with more than a few Dylanesque leanings were all the rage in 1965, the year Simon recorded this album in England (and ONLY available from there as an import for the longest time), and some of his less-memorable "protest" songs ("He Was My Brother," "A Church Is Burning") might still have had an impact with his solo renditions rather than with S&G. But the songs that later ended up on their second and third albums mostly come off well here; "Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall," "Leaves That Are Green,""A Most Peculiar Man" and "The Sound Of Silence" itself sound particularly good with just Simon and his guitar.
I can see why he was reluctant to have this album released in the US for the longest time. The production has a very echoey demo feel to it and, let's face it, Paul Simon has grown in leaps and bounds as a songwriter and performer in his over 50 years of doing this for a living. But what's on this artifact doesn't tarnish him at all, and makes for a nice setting to see a prodigious talent at the very start of that livelihood.