The song is "Bounce," which opens Everything Waits To Be Noticed, the latest musical spell cast by Art Garfunkel. The words are "spin that wheel, just let go," an invitation to close our eyes and let that singing wash through us once again. This is one of the great voices, unique in its beauty, indispensable to the soundtrack of our time.
But there's more than you think you hear. Listen a moment more: "where she falls, nobody knows," and the voice splits into two, each one holding its long notes in harmony to the other.
And then: "save your breath, let those snake eyes roll," and now there are three threading each other's trajectory and dancing over the gentle, festive beat.
You could call it a miracle, and you wouldn't be wrong. This is Art Garfunkel and it's also Buddy Mondlock, and Maia Sharp. Three singers, born to three generations, joined in musical union.
And there's more than even that. For all that Art Garfunkel has accomplished, and all the songs he has caressed to life, he has never taken what many felt was the next logical step, from interpreting the works of others to creating the material himself.
It does begin with the voice, or with three voices leading us through these gardens, which feel so familiar and yet so new.
But before the beginning, there was the idea, which came from Billy Mann. Based in New York, a triple-threat songwriter/performer/producer, Mann hatched a plan one day that he positively had to run past Art Garfunkel. He got the singer on the phone; Art was in New York, Billy was in London, where he had just written "Bounce" with Graham Lyle. Though they'd never met, Art's curiosity was piqued when Billy played the song for him over the phone -- and then announced that he knew of two other artists who absolutely must join him on recording it.
Those artists were Buddy Mondlock and Maia Sharp. A Nashville mainstay, Buddy had released a few albums of his own and written songs that had been recorded by the likes of Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and Garth Brooks. Maia, in her early 20s, was starting to make waves through her debut album and fast-rising profile in the L.A. songwriter community.
Art hadn't heard of either of them. But something told him not to hang up.
Instead, he remembers, "I mentioned to Billy that I'd written a lot of prose poems, and suggested that if he could make them into songs, he would have locked up my account. 'You got me, if you could do that,' I said. 'That would be such a big thing in my life, if those poems could be turned into songs.'"
With that, Billy got in touch with Buddy, who made it his mission to track down a copy of Art's book of poems, Still Water. "I was excited and intrigued," he admits. "From the very beginning of my being interested in music, I was listening to Simon and Garfunkel records. I immediately gravitated toward that kind of a sound: just a guitar and that amazing harmony. Art's approach to harmony really influenced my musical direction, way before I ever dreamed of meeting or working with him."
Billy also alerted Maia to his plans -- born in a flash of inspiration, nurtured along against all odds -- was ready to take root. Art and Maia agreed to fly to Nashville, where Buddy had already found the seeds of a song in Still Water.
Art would later record his memory of that first encounter: "I heard my words come back to me in the song 'Perfect Moment,'" he would write. "Buddy was right on my wavelength. Billy was a visionary, it seemed. Maia Sharp flew in the next day. She brought her saxophone and this great, hip singing voice. So we all wrote 'Wishbone' and demoed the three tunes in Nashville that snowy January when I became a songwriter."
Weeks passed, and with them came other meetings. Their next gathering was in New York, where they huddled in Billy's brick-wall flat near the Brooklyn Bridge and wrote "Everything Waits to Be Noticed," which would become their title track, and a tune rich with local imagery, "The Thread." "Art is such a New Yorker," Maia laughs. "He knows everything about that city, every nook and cranny. He really likes to pay homage to the city and the experiences he's had in it. A lot of that shows up in 'The Thread.'"
Then, later, they came together again, this time at Maia's home in L.A. More songs followed, written by all three together, or in combinations of two. With Buddy and Billy, Art would write "Turn, Don't Turn Away," a fusion of vigorous rhythm and wistful metaphor, built on an image of bicycle wheels turning like the whims of love. The same trio would collaborate on "Wishbone," on which a new line -- "I wish to God you were still alive!" -- illuminates Art's impressionistic reflections like lighting in a misty rain. And on "How Did You Know" Billy and Maia join Art in creating an epiphany, golden and hopeful, from one stolen glance.
For Art, writing songs felt instantly familiar, like a forgotten memory reborn. "It has certain similarities to those prose poems I'd been writing," he explains, "which are a lot about pacing and twirling your hair -- nervous habits -- while you hunt for the right syllabification and the right rhyme. It's one thing to know what you want to say and to have some touching phrases that will say it, but in the tissue, the line-by-line of it, there's so much mechanical work. There's perspiration. You talk to your friends, and you get out the dictionary. Things come out of the truth and into good songwriter language if you have a feel for it and I developed a feel for that language through working with Buddy, Maia, and Billy."
As their writing rhythm solidified, so did their singing blend with uncanny speed. "I love the way Maia sings," Art says. "If blue jeans had never been invented, and somebody said, 'Hey, I've designed a new thing and I'm calling it blue jeans,' that's what discovering Maia's voice was to me: As blue jeans are to clothing, this girl's voice is to singers.
"And Buddy is the easiest singer I know. I myself am a child of Bing Crosby in that sense; I try very hard to sing real easy and soothe my listeners. Buddy takes that art beyond anything I've ever done. He took me to a deep form of relaxing as I sang with him, so that a really intimate honesty came rolling out of me and into the mic."
"Even before I met Artie I was hoping we would do some unison singing together," Buddy adds, "because I love that sound. It turns out that was Billy's idea too, that Artie and I would do a lot of unison singing. We spent a lot of time a few feet apart, looking right into each other's faces as we were singing, so that we could match our phrasing. It's interesting: If you tried to do that on a computer, it would take forever. But right away we felt that we had a good blend."
"Artie and Buddy blend incredibly," Maia says. "And on a couple of tracks, like 'Wishbone,' Art and I did unison at the same time on one mic. The way we sang together, the faster we'd find that true unison, where you wonder who's singing what and you make two voices sound like six because there's this place where a halo grows around it."
Those three sessions produced a bouquet of performances. Only one, Buddy's "The Kid," had been written previously; everything else grew from the common ground discovered by these three individual artists. Each tells a personal story, ranging from the intensity of young love in "Another Only One" through reflections on a love long lost in "Every Now and Then." On every track the melodies soar through mist and sunlight, often with Maia's street-smart soprano sax blowing blue in the background.
That Buddy and Maia could achieve their high level of songwriting is no surprise; for Art, however, these sessions, marking his first exploration of the process, were an epiphany.
"You know," he confides, "I was looking at an old chart I once did: my Top 25 personal life achievements. My number one achievement is to marry Kim and create our son James. Number two was producing and singing the Bridge Over Troubled Water album."
What about Everything Waits To Be Noticed? "I've got to make room for it," Art admits. "Maybe I'll put it at number ten. It really has changed my life, in the deepest part of my sense of self."
That change, that connection between music and life, between where we've been and where we're going, inhabits these three voices three voices that become one -- the voice where it all began and that remains in the air of memory left behind by . Everything Waits To Be Noticed.