Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Old Friend, So Beautiful

When I started playing guitar in 1970, the first two songs I painfully (I can still feel my calluses burning) attempted to play with the record spinning were Paul Simon's "A Most Peculiar Man" and "Richard Cory," songs with which I could keep up with the basic chord changes....

I've been a devoted fan of Paul Simon's music ever since. All of Simon & Garfunkel's albums  had a huge influence on me.  From their work, I learned the importance of crafting intelligent lyrics with flowing melodies and beautiful harmonies. After their break-up, I continued to follow Paul Simon's music.  However, after his brilliant Graceland, I began to lose touch with his work.

I was optimistic about his 2006 release, Surprise, a collaboration with Brian Eno, another artist I've admired for a long time. However, I found the music disappointing.  It was not the best work of either artist.  To me this album sounded forced because their styles are so different.

So I ignored Paul Simon's April 2011 So Beautiful or So What release until December when it started showing up on several Best of 2011 lists that I respect.  Still, not tempted enough to purchase it for myself, I purchased it as a gift for my wife, an even more devoted Paul Simon fan than I am.

It's a wonderful album.  If I had a chance to redo my top 10 of 2011, it would be a part of that list (sorry, I don't know which album I'd drop).  Paul Simon's songwriting is in top form, and includes a new and most welcome edge. Simon, getting up in years (aren't we all), deals with heavy subjects, such as the question of the existence of God, with a whimsically dark humor.  Musically, the album brings in a cornucopia of the sounds of world music, all performed by top-notch studio musicians.  Further, the songs on the album are well designed with regard to placement, so that the songs flow musically well from one song to the next.

Enjoy the title cut, "So Beautiful or So What":

The lesson I take away from this experience is that while I enjoy hearing new young voices, I should never assume that the voices of mature "old  friends" no longer have anything to say musically.