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Simon, Paul: So Beautiful or So What

What more can be said about the genius and talent of Paul Simon that hasn't already been said. So many songs burned into our memory from his days with Art Garfunkel through his solo career. He has been like Paul Mc Cartney, the songwriter for a generation. Well, apparently he's not ready to retire at all. In fact, on the DVD that came with my enhanced CD digi-pack, Simon questions whether or not the traditional medium of music delivery was still a viable method of communicating his ideas. Well, thankfully he chose to give us all more new music rather than re-write or redo what he has already done. The list of classic rock songs he has either penned or co-penned runs long, but includes amongst others, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Cecilia, Sound of Silence, Still Crazy After All These Years, The Boxer, Mother and Child Reunion, Kodachrome, Further to Fly, Graceland, and one of my favorites Duncan.

This album is one of the best of 2011. It came out early in the year and captured my imagination like a transporter that takes you back in time, while at the same time forward into the future of confronting the prospect of aging and where we go beyond. Along the way Simon captures the feelings and emotions many of us have faced in this difficult year of transition. His words and music reach out and provide comfort and warmth amidst the often cold harsh realities which have confronted the world lately. He writes in the traditional manner he approaches all of his subject matter, with a bit of irony and even comedic relief.

Nothing is missing on this album. Trust me, after one listen you'll be trying to memorize the lyrics and you'll definitely be humming the melodies. One of the greatest American songwriters brings us more. I hope he continues to write and produce even more in the future. We need his light and music in this world, maybe even more than in the turbulent 1960s.

Getting Ready for Christmas Day is a great opener for this album, despite its April 2011 release date. The 1941 sermon by the Rev. J.M. Gatessermon that is intermingled with Simon's lyrics and melody is set at the perfect cadence and reinforces the power and magic of this album opener.

The Afterlife is easily one of the best tracks on the album. My son could not stop singing the lyrics to this one…as Paul passes on his songwriting magic to a new generation! The lyrics are fun and the melody is playful. In the accompanying DVD, Simon mentions that someday everyone will realize his comedic value. I've been there since Rhymin' Simon began. I think he has that wonderful quality of being able to deliver sarcasm and comedy within his lyrics without offending you completely. The imagery of this song is incredible. Standing in line, filling out forms to reach Heaven, chasing women in the afterlife, and then having trouble coming up with something profound to say to the Lord is Simon at his best.

If the first two tracks were fun, Simon gets serious with Dazzling Blue. The slow developing drum, percussion, and Simon's own vocal ad libs set the stage for a cool, ok, dazzling opening. The lyrics, so important to this famous songwriter, are excellent. "Maybe love's and accident, or destiny is true. But you and I were born beneath a star of dazzling blue". It gets better as the song progresses, but I will not spoil the fun. The music and melody, another trademark of Simon's travels to South America and Africa, and the two great albums that came from that experience, shine their way through on this song.

Ah, the intricacy of the songwriting process. Simon examines it with joy and a great acoustic melody in the song, Rewrite. The kora and angklung playing, along with the brushes and whistles adds immensely to the variety in the dynamic soundscape Simon always provides with his music.

It seems like he wrote Love & Hard Times especially for this year. The orchestration and string supports the vocal "Orange blossoms opened their fragrant lips" just in time for it to happen throughout the Southeast, and conveniently when the album dropped in for sale. Simon is like a painter with the lyrics throughout this song. "The light of her beauty was warm as a summer day". "Clouds of antelope rolled by". "No hint of rain to come in the prairie sky". The strings roll in again to add a movie soundtrack feel to the imagery. Simon also does a great job with mood changes during the song as well. One of the best tracks on the album.

Love is Eternal Sacred Light picks up the pace again with a cool electronic opening. The track is full of excellent percussion, acoustic and electric guitar. Sonny Terry's harmonica solo is excellent as Simon takes the vocal pitch down lower and delivers a cool rap effect before picking up the pace again, "but sometimes you gotta fly down that highway free as a bird, knock on wood, thank the Lord". A great travelling song for the road.

Amulet is a short guitar solo interlude with some supporting vocal effects. Excellent, but too short.

Questions for the Angels is another of the best songs on the album. Deep lyrics that take you back to some of Simon's best songs of the past. Beautiful acoustic guitar with celeste and harp in support. One of the many interesting questions Simon asks, "If every human on the planet and all the buildings on it should disappear". "Would a zebra grazing in the African Savannah care enough to shed one zebra tear?" He just may have given us a glimpse into his spirit with the refrain, "Who believes in angels…I do".

Love and Blessings is a blues/spiritual mix that will make you tap or stomp your feet. More great lyrics, "Love and blessings, simple kindness". "Ours to hold but not to keep". The excellent acoustic, nylon, and Moog guitars mix well with the clarinet and the wonderful intricate percussion.

So Beautiful or So What is the best song and title track of the album. The rhythm and melody is just irresistible. You can't help but sing along with Simon, "I'm going to make a chicken gumbo". "Toss some sausage in the pot". "I'm gonna flavor it with okra, Cayenne pepper to make it hot". Great lyrics to match that fantastic rhythm and melody. You just don't want this track to end it is so full of life. Let's all hope there is a lot more Simon yet to come in the future.

Track Listing:

1. Getting Ready for Christmas Day
2. The Afterlife
3. Dazzling Blue
4. Rewrite
5. Love & Hard Times
6. Love is Eternal Sacred Light
7. Amulet
8. Questions for the Angels
9. Love and Blessings
10. So Beautiful or So What

Added: November 27th 2011
Reviewer: Mark Johnson
Score:
Related Link: Paul Simon.com
Hits: 1186
Language: english

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