"The music always precedes the words. The words often come from the sound of the music and eventually evolve into coherent thoughts. Or incoherent thoughts. Rhythm plays a crucial part in the lyric-making as well. It's like a puzzle to find the right words to express what the music is saying" - Paul Simon
Paul Simon is a truly wonderful songwriter, as his time with Simon & Garfunkel showed, and it continued throughout his solo career which has now been over four times as long as the partnership with Garfunkel. He has a fetching mellifluous voice and a mastery of subtle and sensitive lyricism that go together so well.
I first heard his solo work in the early seventies with the reggae-influenced Me And Julio Down At The Schoolyard and Mother And Child Reunion but it was the New Orleans jazz of Take Me To The Mardi Gras that really confirmed me as a fan. I can still remember listening to it on a tiny transistor radio in the kitchen in my childhood home, and thinking "wow, what a great record...". I loved the atmosphere on it, and the way Simon's gentle voice just sort of you invited you in.
The world music adventures of the mid-eighties were a superb renaissance after a quiet period and his career his continued giving us quality ever since. He is genuinely one of music's finest singer-songwriters. I challenge anyone to listen to any Paul Simon album and not get something out of it, at some point.
Paul Simon (1972)
Mother And Child Reunion/Duncan/Everything Put Together Falls Apart/Run That Body Down/Armistice Day/Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard/Peace Like A River/Papa Hobo/Hobo's Blues/Paranoia Blues/Congratulations
After the demise of Simon & Garfunkel the previous year, Paul Simon cast off the shackles off what Simon & Garfunkel had become - big, dramatic ballads like Bridge Over Troubled Water without the musical explorations and adventurousness that Simon so liked. He had tried to get them into the duo's work, subtly, but now has was free to do his thing.
Funnily enough, though, despite the convincing experiment with reggae on Mother And Child Reunion and Caribbean calypso-style rhythms and "world music" sounds on Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard (the album's two big hit singles) the album was pretty low key. Quiet, gentle songs, intelligent, perceptive lyrics. Simon set his stall out for many subsequent albums. Duncan is a beguiling, interesting song, with a witty first couple of lines and Everything Put Together Falls Apart is a laid-back, walking pace acoustic number, of the type that would typify much of Simon's work over the next few years. Run That Body Down is wry and observantly astute. This is a long way removed from the grandiose, stately ballads of Simon & Garfunkel. The latter track has some fetching wah-wah style guitar in the middle. It is a "grower" of a song and one of my favourites on the album. Simon began a tradition that would serve him well over the years - employing the finest musicians.
Armistice Day sees Simon delving into the blues, with some impressive guitar backing another lyrically interesting song. These songs are proper, serious "adult" songs and now, nearly fifty years later they haven't dated at all. I have to say, also, that, for 1972, the sound is truly outstanding on the latest remastering.
Peace Like A River has a big, resonant bluesy slow tempo beat to it. Another very enjoyable cut. Papa Hobo is another observant, environmentally-consciousness song with some infectious backing. The song morphs into the short, bluesy instrumental Hobo's Blues. Simon's exploration of the blues continues with the bottleneck guitar of Paranoia Blues, which, after a reflective opening, launches into a huge, thumping chorus part. Congratulations is a suitably understated acoustic number upon which to end this gently appealing album.
There Goes Rhymin' Simon (1973)
Kodachrome/Tenderness/Take Me To The Mardi Gras/Something So Right/One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor/American Tune/Was A Sunny Day/Learn How To Fall/St. Judy's Comet/Loves Me Like A Rock
This a delightfully mature and nonchalantly laid-back, relaxing album. Leaving behind some of the reggae rhythms of 1971's Paul Simon, we get a more polished, reflective collection.
The lively, energetic Kodachrome starts the album in fine fashion, while Tenderness is a lovely, laid-back, piano and bass-driven ballad. Then comes my favourite, and one of my all-time best songs of Simon's - the wonderfully atmospheric groove of Take Me To The Mardi Gras. I remember first hearing this as a young teenager, fourteen I think, one hot day in May 1973 on my tiny transistor radio and I was just entranced. I can still remember that moment. Paul Simon's voice, the effortless instrumental sound, and, of course that thoroughly addictive New Orleans brass sound at the end. Something So Right continues the relaxing, tranquil feel of the album. One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor is a powerful, bluesy number with some excellent boogie-woogie piano half way through and a strong, vibrant bass throughout. Some gospel vocals join in too, to see the song out.
American Tune is lyrically beautiful and observantly cynical. It is beautifully orchestrated too. Was A Sunny Day revisits some of that Caribbean vibe again, with a lilting, calypso-style rhythm, although at times Simon's cod-Caribbean voice is a tad embarrassing. However, you can't really dislike the song in any way.
Learn How To Fall is a summery number, with some pumping brass passages underpinning the chorus in the sort of way that would be used fifteen or more years later on The Rhythm Of The Saints. St. Judy's Comet has a warm bassy sound as Simon sings a lullaby over the insistent, full beat. It is actually quite beautiful. It has some hypnotic percussion too. Loves Me Like A Rock is instantly recognisable as Simon whoops it up with a gospel choir. Track that will always be referenced as archetypal Paul Simon.
Everything about the album is pleasant - the gentle melodies and Simon's always interesting lyrics and gentle vocal delivery. Yet, despite all that, I don't feel the album is an absolute classic. It is one of those "wash over you" albums that provides a most enjoyable forty minute or so, but not one that gets you thinking "wow!". Maybe it is because Simon is so good, you just find you expect just a little more. Maybe this is a little harsh, because it is still an excellent album.
Still Crazy After All These Years (1975)
Still Crazy After All These Years/My Little Town/I'll Do It For Your Love/50 Ways To Leave Your Lover/Night Game/Gone At Last/Some Folks' Lives Roll Easy/Have A Good Time/You're Kind/Silent Eyes/Slip Slidin' Away
Whereas 1973's There Goes Rhymin' Simon experimented with various musical styles, this album, two years later, was pretty much played in the same laid-back, immaculately-played and easy late night jazz style. It is a very relaxing album.
Still Crazy After All These Years is a reflective piece, well-known to everyone by now. My Little Town sees Simon reunited with Art Garfunkel for some delicious harmonies and a Kodachrome-style rhythm. I'd Do It For Your Love is another entrancing slow number, while 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover is an addictively rhythmic and catchy song that became one of his biggest hits. Night Game is a rather odd song about a participant in a baseball game dying, it would seem. It is a rather chilling song.
Gone At Last is a vibrant, lively slice of infectious gospel and Have A Good Time has a punchy bit of jazzy brass in it, over an insistent female backing vocal. Some Folks' Lives Roll Easy is a soulful, slow number that Simon would re-record on 2018's In The Blue Light.
You're Kind has an appealing, bassy and percussion-driven refrain and a mellifluous Simon vocal. The tempo ups a bit on this, but not much, just in its stronger rhythm. Silent Eyes is a plaintive piano and bass-driven ballad to end what is a pretty low-key and short album. Slip Slidin' Away, recorded during this album's sessions surely should have been included. It is the best track on the album, not on the album, if you understand.
It was a huge seller, but for me, there are several much better Simon albums out there. It is perfectly pleasant, of course, as all his albums are. It seemed a bit of a "treading water" album to me. Despite that, there was not another album to come for another five years. Actually, maybe I'm being a bit unfair, it does have hidden depths and appeal, requiring many listens.
One Trick Pony (1980)
Late In The Evening/That’s Why God Made The Movies/One Trick Pony/How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns/Oh, Marion/Ace In The Hole/Nobody/Jonah/God Bless The Absentee/Long Long Day
This album, from 1980, contained songs from Paul Simon’s spectacularly unsuccessful movie of the same name, but it was not billed as a soundtrack. It functioned as a straight forward album of Simon with a band. It includes two live tracks within the album, both of which are excellent. The music was culturally completely different to the new wave, punk and disco that dominated 1980. Simon never followed trends, did he? He was all the better for it.
Late In The Evening is a bone fide Simon classic to start with, full of that quintessential Simon je ne sais quoi. You just know it when you hear it. The rhythms are totally intoxicating from beginning to end as are Simon’s beguiling, cinematic and enigmatic lyrics. As for the brass section and the percussion solo - wow. I haven’t even mentioned the guitar either. The song is just an unbridled joy.
That’s Why God Made The Movies is a gently shuffling number with Simon reminiscing about lying around in his swaddling clothes (he claimed to have had memories from being one or two years old in the previous song, so he must have been a precocious child!). It is another of his cryptic songs that could mean all sorts of things. The first live track is the vaguely funky groove of One Trick Pony, with its jazzy beat and easy, free feeling. It is a really addictive number with a great vibe to it, lovely rhythms and, of course, Simon’s mellifluous voice.
How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns is a walking pace, slow number that was re-interpreted on 2018’s In The Blue Light. Oh, Marion is similarly low key with a more solid drum backing and light jazzy guitar sound.
The other live track, Ace In The Hole, is an upbeat number with a funky guitar backing and Simon assisted on vocals by Richard Tee. It features some fine guitar too, from Eric Gale. Nobody is a slow burning, sleepy, reflective number and Jonah is similar in its typically Simon-esque gentle ambience. God Bless The Absentee ups the tempo slightly on a muscular number enhanced by some bluesy guitar. Long Long Day is a quiet ballad to end this short but pleasant album on. It remains considerably underrated in Simon’s canon.
The non-album bonus tracks from the movie include the short but sweet Soft Parachutes; the punchier slow, staccato groove of All Because Of You; the gently melodic, saxophone enhanced Spiral Highway and the gospel-influenced fun of Stranded In A Limousine.
Hearts And Bones (1983)
Allergies/Hearts And Bones/When Numbers Get Serious/Think Too Much (B)/Song About The Moon/ThinkToo Much (A)/Train In The Distance/Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War/Cars Are Cars/The Late Great Johnny Ace
From 1983, this was Paul Simon’s least successful album, which was somewhat of a travesty, as far as I am concerned, because there are some really good songs on it.
Allergies, after a quiet, slow start, breaks out into a rhythmic, staccato chunky number containing typically politely cynical Simon lyrics. The song has some fine horn breaks too. It is a really good, underrated Simon song. Check out that quirky guitar solo. Even more archetypal Simon is the subtle strains of Hearts And Bones with its quiet melody and pre-Rhythm Of The Saints lyrics, particularly the first verse. Once again, it is a most impressive and atmospheric song. It ends with the sort of tribal drum sound that Simon would use a lot by the end of the decade.
Simon has always liked a bit of lyrical fun and we get some here on When Numbers Get Serious. It is a chunky, attractive number with gentle reggae hints and a throwback feel to those Caribbean-influenced hits of the early seventies like Mother And Child Reunion and Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard. Think Too Much (B) has an infectious rhythm, sheep/goat noises and a fetching vocal from Simon. Again, it is a pre-cursor to the Rhythm Of The Saints material. The melodious Song About The Moon is more typical of mid-seventies Simon fare. The second part of Think Too Much (A) (curiously A comes after B) is even more upbeat, with a thumping drum beat, some skanking/funky guitars and a great, deep bass line.
Train In The Distance has some homage paid to Simon’s beloved doo-wop at the beginning, before it becomes a familiar gentle Simon song with a killer hook line in “everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance...”. He’s right, we do. Nice saxophone at the end, too.
Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War is one of my favourite song titles, and the song is duly pictorial in its lovely images and plaintive delivery. It is a truly fine song. I love the bit where Simon changes the lyrics to “apres la guerre...”. Cars Are Cars ups the tempo on a quirky, amusing number. The album closes with a moving, evocative tribute to John Lennon in The Late Great Johnny Ace. The lyrics are typically cryptic at times but as with many of Simon’s songs, it doesn’t matter. I love the last line about drinking with a stranger in a bar on the night Lennon died.
Overall, for me, this was a good album and any criticism it received was quite unfair.
The one non-album bonus track is the tender, acoustic The Shelter Of Your Arms.
The Boy In The Bubble/Graceland/I Know What I Know/Gumboots/Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes/You Can Call Me Al/Under African Skies/Homeless/Crazy Love, Vol II/That Was Your Mother/All Around The World Or The Myth Of Fingerprints
The album that brought Paul Simon back to global super-stardom. Recorded with a host of South African musicians and vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Simon married his unique lyrical mastery with the lilting, similarly unique, guitar sound of South Africa’s townships. Simon succeeded in introducing what is a marvellous musical style to a greater world audience. Township jive is uplifting, melodic, impossibly catchy and generally inspirational. Considering the often tragic, discriminatory background from which it sprung, its general joie de vivre is utterly remarkable.
Highlights are, of course, the quintessential township numbers - I Know What I Know, Gumboots, Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes and the beautiful Under African Skies with its super lyrical characterisation - “Joseph’s face was black as night, the pale yellow moon shone in his eyes”. Then there is the gentle lilt of the beautiful Crazy Love, Vol II and the a capella harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the evocative Homeless.
He also dabbled in Cajun Zydeco in the infectiously catchy That Was Your Mother and Tex-Mex in All Around The World. After the release of this album, the previously-ignored genre of “world music” became “trendy”.
That said, the Los Lobos Tex-Mex collaboration All Around The World sits somewhat incongruously at the end of the album. Apparently the group said that Simon "stole" the track from them and Simon, surprised to get a legal letter a few months later, tired of the wrangling and lost interest as to whether the song was on the album or not. Stuck on the end as it was, you do sort of feel that vibe. I felt it, back in 1986, before I even knew anything of the back story to its inclusion.
Then there are the big hit tunes - Graceland, where Simon sings about Elvis Presley’s house against a wonderful township guitar riff, You Can Call Me Al, which includes bassist Ray Phiri’s famous “backwards” bass solo part and The Boy In The Bubble with its atmospheric opening lines - “It was a slow day and the sun was beating on the soldiers by the side of the road”. Simon’s lyrics always say so much in so few lines. All the songs on his album do this. I could go on quoting all day.
Simon subsequently had this to say regarding his having to improvise his songwriting techniques for the album -
"....It was very difficult, because patterns that seemed as though they should fit together often didn't. I realised that in African music, the rhythms are always shifting slightly and that the shape of a melody was often dictated by the bass line rather than the guitar. Harmonically, African music consists essentially of three major chords — that's why it sounds so happy — so I could write almost any melody I wanted in a major scale. I improvised in two ways — by making up melodies in falsetto, and by singing any words that came to mind down in my lower and mid range....
....My typical style of songwriting in the past has been to sit with a guitar and write a song, finish it, go into the studio, book the musicians, lay out the song and the chords, and then try to make a track. With these musicians, I was doing it the other way around. The tracks preceded the songs. We worked improvisationally. While a group was playing in the studio, I would sing melodies and words — anything that fit the scale they were playing in...."
There was/has been/is a lot of controversy about this album - some seeing Simon as indirectly supporting Apartheid by not boycotting everything to do with South Africa at the time. Or that it took a rich white man to bring the music of the townships to the world. So what? Someone had to, and the world is a better place for it. Simon united musicians and cultures for the sake of music. He should be praised for it. Make no mistake, this was a seminal album.
The Rhythm Of The Saints (1990)
The Obvious Child/Can't Run But/The Coast/Proof/Further To Fly/She Moves On/Born At The Right Time/The Cool, Cool River/Spirit Voices/The Rhythm Of The Saints
Often overshadowed by 1986's top seller, Graceland, this one did not get the credit it deserved. Having explored the ethnic music of South Africa to great effect on Graceland, Paul Simon took himself off to South America to delve into the rhythms of Brazil and the Amazon Basin, while also including major influences from the culturally and ethnically linked music of West Africa, Cameroon in particular. Beguiling lyrics proliferate about Bougainvillea, families of travelling musicians, injured coasts, cool rivers, and Babalu-Aye backed by the lilting, gentle sounds of Brazilian percussion and guitars, congas, bongos and berimbaus.
The musicians are predominantly Brazilian, but there are also several notable US musicians on the album too - blues/roots guitarist JJ Cale, saxophonist Michael Brecker and art rock guitarist Adrian Belew (of Talking Heads and David Bowie fame).
This is simply a beautiful, atmospheric album. I never tire of listening to it, even now, twenty-eight years later.
There are, as I said earlier, multiple Brazilian musicians and backing vocals all over the album. A whole troop of drummers from the Bahía region of Brazil feature on the upbeat opener, The Obvious Child. Thereafter, though, it relaxes into a warm groove, perfect for a hot summer’s evening as dusk descends and you imagine yourself under your mosquito net somewhere deep in the Amazon basin. The Coast, Further To Fly and Spirit Voices with its delightful Portuguese vocal part are particular personal favourites. Just check out the melodies and intoxicating percussion on The Coast and that rumbling bass too. Just perfection. Or how about that lovely, lilting guitar intro to Spirit Voices? Musically, the album is just so infectious, drawing you in to its life-affirming vibrancy with every tiny note. Simon's gently reassuring voice only enhances it even more. The rhythms and the voice are made for each other, even more than the South African music was.
The shuffling, rhythmic Can't Run But is incredibly catchy in a laid-back way, as is the gently intoxicating Born At The Right Time and the horn blasts on Proof are powerful and dramatic. It is all good, however. Just check out the back cover for a feel of the album's atmosphere.
She Moves On is also deliciously laid-back, and The Cool, Cool River is just so marvellously evocative, particularly when those Heaven-bound horns kick in again - "send their battered dreams to Heaven...". The gentle, mellifluous Rhythm Of The Saints sees the album to its quiet, reflective close as if another long sultry day ends on the bank of the Amazon. The bonus track, Thelma, although it is a typical Simon love song, is given a shuffling, Brazilian backing that completely fits in with the rest of the album, musically, featuring a lovely deep percussion vibe and sumptuous bass line.
The remastering is excellent, too, as you would expect. The whole album has a wonderful sound quality.
I came across Simon speaking of his favourite track on the album, which is interesting -
"....My favourite track in the "Rhythm Of The Saints" is one that nobody ever plays - they never play it and it's so good - "Can't Run But." It has such fabulous percussion, the Uakti. And all these classically trained guys who invented their own instruments. I really love that track. Nobody ever plays that! That album was also the first time I've worked with Vincent Nguini who turned out to be a perfect guitarist for me. I love Vincent Nguini's playing...."
Live In Central Park (1991)
This is, along with 2012's Hyde Park concert, one of the best full concert live recordings from Paul Simon. While the sound on the 2012 one is marginally superior, I like this one because it includes six songs from The Rhythm Of The Saints, an album I particularly love. They are all reproduced without losing any of that distinct atmosphere from their original recordings. There are also five songs from Graceland. Simon employs a large band of African/South American musicians and what is quite interesting is that he allows them to use their distinctive styles on songs such as Kodachrome and Cecilia, giving those songs a new, invigorating makeover. The backing vocalists are superb, throughout the performance. Check out I Know What I Know. Wonderful. Straight of out Johannesburg's townships. The instrumental jam at the end of Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes is marvellous.
It is nice to hear a full, punchy version of Train In The Distance, full of brass backing. Hearts And Bones as well. Other than that, and the Rhythm Of The Saints tracks, it is pretty much solo and Simon & Garfunkel hits all the way, however. There is an exhilarating, intoxicating live feel to the whole thing. The atmosphere comes across well. There is also a spine tingling moment when some jazzy, piano noodling suddenly turns into Bridge Over Troubled Water and the audience hoots and hollers. The band, unsurprisingly, is top notch and Paul Simon is, well, Paul Simon. The guy is special. Highly recommended.
Songs From The Capeman (1997)
Adios Hermanos/Born In Puerto Rico/Satin Summer Nights/Bernadette/The Vampires/Quality/Can I Forgive Him/Sunday Afternoon/Killer Wants To Go To College/Time Is An Ocean/Virgil/Killer Wants To Go To College II/Trailways Bus
This was a "concept album" from Paul Simon, based on the songs from the musical he wrote, based on the story of Salvador Agron, a Puerto Rican gang member who murdered two teenagers in 1959 in New York City. It has a late fifties, New York "doo-wop" sound to a lot of the music, but, of course, is enhanced by Simon's unique vocals. It is actually pretty good. Critically, it didn't get much praise, which I feel is unfair. There is not much on here that points to it being a bad record. Not at all. Sandwiched in between the South African Graceland and the Brazilian The Rhythm Of The Saints, this is, essentially, Simon's Puerto Rican/doo wop album. Viewed in that way, it is a good record. I think the whole "concept" thing put some people off. I get that, but it doesn't overwhelm the music at all.
Adios Hermanos is sung a capella, with some impressive vocal harmonies from both Simon and his backing singers. Born In Puerto Rico sees the musicians come in. It is a great, atmospheric track and sounds like it should be on The Rhythm Of The Saints. Its lyrics speak of life in the barrios - "red beans and rice from kitchen windows....we came here wearing summer clothes in winter....". The evocative lyrics are many on this excellent song, plus there is some great Latin trumpet in the middle too. Salsa rhythms are used too, most effectively. Satin Summer Nights uses a lot of doo-wop but also some Latin guitar too and has a great atmosphere.
Bernadette is possibly the best-known track, being included on the Shining Like A National Guitar compilation. Again, it is full of rock 'n' roll idioms, vocals, instrumentations and an effervescent, lively melody. The Vampires has some delicious Latin brass sounds and a slow, syncopated salsa piano rhythm. Simon doesn't hold back on the profanities in the spoken "gang" background vocals. It all adds to the convincing atmosphere though. Quality returns to the lively doo-wop beat, it is fun of late fifties sounds, complete with a slowed-down "bridge" part. Can I Forgive Him is a slow voice and acoustic guitar narrative. Sunday Afternoon is also a laid-back number featuring a female lead vocal, while Simon returns for the rhythmic mid-paced bluesy rock of Killer Goes To College.
Time Is An Ocean features many of the assorted vocalists, male and female, on a shuffling tale of Agron's rehabilitation in prison. It has some great lyrics. Virgil has a thumping beat and a rock guitar riff intro and is sung from the point of view of the prison guard who guarded Agron and resents his academic progression. Killer Wants To Go To College II is very much a typical Paul Simon-sounding song. The album ends with Trailways Bus which is another that sounds very much like the songs on The Rhythm Of The Saints. Again, it is a most atmospheric song. It seems to tell the tale of Agron, free from incarceration, and travelling on a bus. It can almost be taken as a separate song from the rest of the album, though. Overall, this album is an enjoyable listen, although the first half of the album is probably the better.
You're The One (2000)
That's Where I Belong/Darling Lorraine/Old/You're The One/The Teacher/Look At That/Señorita With A Necklace Of Tears/Love/Pigs, Sheep And Wolves/Hurricane Eye/Quiet
Ten years after the glorious South American-influenced Rhythm Of The Saints, Paul Simon had only released the unsuccessful Songs From The Capeman stage musical project three years earlier. So, this was his first "proper" album in ten years. It is an extremely understated, low-key album, with a strong, pumping bassy sound, but very slow-tempo rhythms. The African/South American influences are still there, underpinning the whole thing, but not obviously so. The album has been described as elliptical in its economy of speech, in its whole low-key, gentle feel. Personally I would say Paul Simon has always been like that. It is almost a trademark of his. He is never "in your face".
That's Where I Belong is a perfect example of that gently understated beauty. It has lovely rhythms and Simon's vocal delivery is still as perfectly nuanced as always. Darling Lorraine is a wry tale of a marriage breaking up. It has some real echoes of Graceland in it at times and some guitar straight out of Rhythm Of The Saints. It actually ends very sadly. Old begins with some Cecilia-style percussion and melody. Simon is beginning to recognise his ageing and here he wittily expresses it. You're The One is hypnotic in its sound, Simon's voice is sensual and smooth, honeyed and always strangely reassuring. It is a totally infectious, intoxicating track. There are vague hints of Eastern Sufi-style vocals at one point and some fifties rock 'n' roll backing harmonies too.
The Teacher is very South American in its sumptuous percussion rhythms and also in its lyrics. It is a beautiful song that sweeps over you like a warm evening wind over the Amazon (or how I imagine it). The rich, warm bass and drum sounds are just wonderful. So very evocative. In the same vein is the quirky Look At That. Señorita With A Necklace Of Tears tells of a "frog in South America whose venom is an antidote for pain...". Again, the music is just a delight and Simon's delivery perfect.
Love is walking pace slow, haunting and deeply meaningful. Nobody does this sort of material quite like Paul Simon. Listening to this album, it is surprisingly how little critical credit it gets. Personally, I really rate it. It has layer after layer of appeal. Pigs, Sheep And Wolves is beautifully odd. Its rhythm is addictive, its lyrics perplexing. Hurricane Eye is a bit more clunky than the rest of the material on the album, without the easiness of melody, but it has an insistent, hard-hitting denouement. Quiet is a plaintive, sombre haunting number to end on, with Simon's voice singing against a sonorous string background and some deep keyboard noises in there too. I really feel at times that Paul Simon is some sort of guru when I listen to him. He is so damn wise. Or sounds it, anyway. This is a highly recommended, under-appreciated album.
How Can You Live In The North-East?/Everything About It Is A Love Song/Outrageous/Sure Don't Feel Like Love/Wartime Prayers/Beautiful/I Don't Believe/Another Galaxy/Once Upon A Time There Was An Ocean/That's Me/Father And Daughter
Paul Simon hadn't put out an album for six years when he put this out in 2006. For his "comeback album" he collaborated, some would say surprisingly, with Brian Eno, of Roxy Music, David Bowie, Talking Heads and U2 fame. The result is a beguiling, adventurous, slightly different Simon album that challenges its listener. I guess that is what you would expect from one as avant-garde as Eno. Rather than re-visit the styles that made him successful over many decades, Simon/Eno choose to be ingenious and inventive as opposed to retrospective. It is possibly his most creative, innovative album, but not necessarily his most listenable.
The quiet but powerful, quirkily rhythmic How Can You Live In The North-East? exemplify what we have always known - that Simon was never a fist pumper of a protest singer. He makes his points wisely and often wearily, as if grinding through day by day, getting increasingly tired. Simon is often bitter-sweet, his hope ground down by a deep, academic unease. He was like this on Hearts And Bones back in 1983 and now his condition has worsened, so to speak.
Everything About It Is A Love Song sounds very like a latter-era David Bowie song, particularly on its fast, programmed drum loops. Outrageous also uses contemporary drum sounds and its vocals flirt vaguely with rap while a modern sounding guitar swirls all around. Sure Don't Feel Like Love also pounds with contemporary beats while still delivering Simon's enigmatic lyrics. He is more up front and almost aggressive vocally (comparatively) on here. This is no Slip Sliding Away.
Wartime Prayers is a more typical slow, gentle Simon ballad - or so you expect, initially. It grinds away, after a while, with a gospelly dignity and U2-esque rousing, anthemic guitar and drum backing. Beautiful has an archetypal Simon rhythmic backing and the sort of lyrics that you have come to expect from him. It moves effortlessly into the slow, thoughtful I Don't Believe. The drums on here are very U2, as indeed are the occasional guitar interjections. The influence is subtle, however.
Another Galaxy is, perhaps unsurprisingly, somewhat spacey in its main backing, which merges with a crystal clear acoustic guitar to produce a mysterious, brooding but also bright soundscape that is very Eno. An infectious percussion arrives too and Simon's gentle voice glides over it all beautifully. The final guitar/rhythm part is captivating. Once Upon A Time There Was An Ocean has a wonderful guitar riff and an equally superb vocal. Simon and Eno are in perfect sync here. A similarly guitar-driven edgy ambience can be found on That's Me. It is like Paul Simon meeting U2 and provides a most intriguing listen. You need to listen to it several times, though.
This eclectic, enjoyable ends with the tender and beautiful, typically Simon-esque Father And Daughter. This is a highly recommended album that begs repeated listens.
So Beautiful Or So What (2011)
Getting Ready For Christmas Day/The Afterlife/Dazzling Blue/Rewrite/Love And Hard Times/Love Is Eternal Sacred Light/Amulet/Questions For The Angels/Love And Blessings/So Beautiful Or So What
After an interesting album produced by Brian Eno in 2006's Surprise, Paul Simon returned five years later, this time without Eno, but with a bit of his musically adventurous influence remaining. It is a short album at thirty-eight minutes but it is certainly an eminently enjoyable one.
Getting Ready For Christmas Day is a bit of a strange opener - upbeat and toe-tapping but with a bit of a feel of an ad hoc demo about it, particularly in the way the sound of the scratchy, bluesy acoustic guitar riff seems to fade in and out. The vocals are shared and are similarly improvised and loose. After a few minutes, however, it gets into your system and you get used to it. The Afterlife has you thinking that your speakers aren't playing up, as the previous track had you feeling, with a deliciously quirky and rhythmic number about filling out forms and waiting in line delivered in typically laidback but cynically weary style by Simon. The rhythmic influence of the Graceland and Rhythm Of The Saints albums can be clearly detected here, the latter album's grooves even more so on Dazzling Blue which simply drips with intoxicating percussive rhythms and rubbery, vibrating bass sound.
Rewrite is an attractive, staccato beat-backed acoustic and percussion song, with instantly recognisable Simon vocals. It contains some very Malian-sounding West African guitar in the middle. The old world music influences are still around. Love And Hard Times is a gentle acoustic, strings and vocal number of the sort that Simon specialises in. Love Is Eternal Sacred Light sees the tempo upping on a drum and guitar-powered highly catchy song that sort of blends Americana with a world music energy. Check out the harmonica/drum interplay bit about two minutes in and then when Simon lifts his vocals to meet the song's pace in true Graceland style. Great stuff.
Amulet returns to the acoustic format, this time in a short instrumental interlude. It merges seamlessly into the moving quiet ballad Questions For The Angels. It briefly references the "railway station/destination" lyric from Homeward Bound all those years ago and, to bring it up to date, Simon namechecks Jay-Z too.
Love And Blessings has an infectious rhythm and it breaks out into some strong drums as it swings jazzily on its way. There are some hints of doo-wop in there too, something that makes a regular appearance in Simon's music. A jerky, blues meets world music rhythm backs the enigmatic So Beautiful Or So What. Although a short album there is some fine material on here and it shows Simon to still be a creative, relevant artist all these years down the line.
Live In Hyde Park (2012)
This is an excellent full concert live album from Paul Simon, from London's Hyde Park in summer 2012. There is a vibrant crowd atmosphere and Simon runs through a lot of his back catalogue in the first half of the concert - Kodachrome; 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover; Slip Slidin' Away; Me And Julio Down At The Schoolyard plus some comparative rarities in Dazzling Blue and a rousing Gone At Last. Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff joins him for a cover of Cliff's Vietnam and Simon's Mother And Child Reunion. There is also a pulsating, drum-powered The Obvious Child.
The second half of the concert is devoted to pretty much most of the Graceland album and brilliantly played it is too by the usual assorted South African musicians of the highest quality. It is a joy from beginning to end. He ends with The Sound Of Silence, Late In The Evening and Still Crazy After All These Years, but in between he makes a bit of a mess of The Boxer if I'm perfectly honest. Never mind, it is still a highly enjoyable album and highly recommended. The sound quality is excellent too.
Stranger To Stranger (2016)
The Werewolf/Wristband/The Clock/Street Angels/Stranger To Stranger/In A Parade/Proof Of Love/Garden Of Edie/The Riverbank/Cool Papa Bell/Insomniac's Lullaby/Horace And Pete
I am very fond of this album. It slowly grows on you and I find is extremely nostalgic as the great man reminds you in snatches just what a contribution he has made over many, many years. There are no great You Can Call Me Al hooks on this album, the memorable bits just float in and out of your consciousness, fleeting bits in each song, a line or two of sheer brilliance here and there which just have you smiling in recognition of such a great lyrics man at work. You just nod your head knowingly and think “that’s typical Paul Simon…”.
Musically, Simon explores contemporary dace music rhythms, with some strong, reverberating drum sounds and some authentic South American drums too. All sorts of other instruments are used - different woodwind instruments, even a trumping tuba at one point. Simon experiments with all sorts of things, his muse certainly hasn’t deserted him, even into his seventies. He is just a truly remarkable singer/songwriter. He still has so much to offer. I can’t speak highly enough about this album. I love it.
The Werewolf is a chunky chugging opener with a big bassy beat. A very powerful song that grows on you, considerably, with each listen. Wristband is infuriatingly catchy and rhythmically mesmerising. It has excellent witty lyrics and a simply great bass at the end. The Clock, however, is a bit of an obviously Pink Floyd-ish waste of time, so to speak. I will forgive him, though. Street Angels has hints of a thumping hip hop backing and is just intoxicating at times. All these songs deserve multiple listens.
Stranger To Stranger is both dignified and beautiful. Again, it makes me feel so nostalgic for all the years Simon has given us. There are many hints of the Rhythm Of The Saints album in its effortless, easy groove and Simon’s gorgeous laid back delivery. There is a lovely brass solo at the end. In A Parade has another dance music influenced, pounding drum sound and some cynically witty lyrics and continues the musically powerful but lyrically understated beauty of this album. “I wear a hoodie”, says Simon, wryly.
Proof Of Love is another nonchalant beauty of a track. The quality is never-ending, it really is. The sharp acoustic guitar of to the instrumental Garden Of Edie is just superb. Such wonderful clarity of sound. The Riverbank also has a great shuffling groove. The tuba features on the attractive Cool Papa Bell. Insomniac's Lullaby and the tender Horace And Pete are both gentle songs on which to end this beguiling album. It is worth many a listen.
In The Blue Light (2018)
Paul Simon has decided to re-visit ten of his older songs and give them a new makeover. It has proved to be a beguiling album, worthy of attention. These are my initial impressions of the new versions-
One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor - From There Goes Rhymin' Simon. This song hasn't actually changed too much, the evocative piano intro has remained, although Simon's vocal is now considerably slowed down, more barroom bluesy, with some deep-voice backing vocals. He has added some jazzy piano too.
Love - From You're The One. The new version has a lighter, more gently percussive backing but the general vocal tempo stays pretty much the same. When the song kicks in, the bassy backing is similar but the overall production is not as heavy. The acoustic guitar is sharper. I prefer this one to the original, slightly. Simon's voice is excellent, too, as it is throughout the album.
Can't Run But - From Rhythm Of The Saints. An orchestrated version full of strings and flutes, without any of the Brazilian rhythmic percussion of the original. The vocal is as strong and convincing as the original, but I feel it has lost its South American, intoxicating soul somewhat.
How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns - From One Trick Pony. It begins with some jazz piano and stand-up bass and then a wonderful saxophone break, as opposed to the previous syncopated percussion, also, Simon's vocal is slower in delivery. It is given a far more jazzy makeover, tinkling piano and haunting brass all over it, giving it a new sheen.
Pigs, Sheep & Wolves - From You're The One. Again, this has a lighter rhythm and another jazzier approach. The shuffling rhythm is not nearly as thumping or bassy. Here, Simon turns it into a jaunty New Orleans jazz celebration of a song. It hasn't lost any of its quirkiness though.
Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War - From Hearts And Bones. A sombre cello intro begins the song and it is delivered mournfully and in a sort of graceful 1930s fashion. Its tender string orchestration replaces the backing vocals. It was always a lovely song, here Simon gives it even more soul.
The Teacher - From You're The One. The tracks from You're The One all had a bassy, thumping backing that formed the ambience of that album. As with all the four tracks from that album, this version benefits from a lighter touch. A Spanish sounding acoustic guitar lends a beautiful backing to it. Some beguiling saxophone enhances it too. Lovely.
Darling Lorraine - From You're The One. The original had some Rhythm Of The Saints rhythmic, seductive backing. Once again, this deepness of sound is replaced by an acoustic guitar and a gentle percussion. I like both versions, but this version has a haunting beauty to it.
Some Folks' Lives Roll Easy - From Still Crazy After All These Years. Originally, it was a slow, subtle guitar-backed ballad. Now it is a plaintive, classically-influenced piano backed number. It has lost that slight country air to it and is now a torch-style late night song with a distinctly jazzy, infectious percussion and sumptuous stand-up bass line where a string backing used to be. Beautiful. Definite improvement on this one.
Question For The Angels - From So Beautiful Or So What. The original gentle vocal and acoustic guitar is very similar, although there are a few more nuances in the backing on this one. It also suddenly develops what sounds like an Australian aboriginal didgeridoo break before the line about Jay-Z. Slightly incongruous but interesting.
Overall, it is a thoroughly worthwhile listen. The originals were good and so are these versions.