Ive got a huge respect for anybody who, at 70 (or more) years old, still gets around and plays shows, and I approached these four albums his fifth through eighth solo records, all released on Warner Bros. with due reverence. Theyre newly available in remastered editions, each with a bonus disc of rarities.
The lone Grammy winner among them the five-times-platinum Graceland, of course still stands out among the bunch, as vibrant and engaging now as it was when public ears first heard its South African mbaqanga cyclic dancing style in 1986. The sound is pervasive throughout this series of discs, starting with 1980s One Trick Pony, the soundtrack to the film of the same name, in which he starred. His big hit from that record, Late in the Evening, could be misconstrued as reggae-influenced, but its definitely an earlier harbinger of what would grown into the full-blown tribal roots-pop of You Can Call Me Al.
Nowadays, most people point to Simon when discussions about Vampire Weekend arise, mainly for his Afro-pop melding. Imagining Rostam Batmanglijs parents playing Proof for him is just all too easy. I think that the joyful, optimistic tones of these songs get omitted too often from these conversations, and that it takes a pretty talented guy to foster a such hope in songs like Homeless that have really dire, tragic lyrics.
Simon, of course, was also well-known for writing lyrics better than most anybody else, and there are a few handfuls of terrific ones in here. Ill list a few:
Negotiations and love songs are often mistaken for one and the same. Train in the Distance, from Hearts & Bones
In the bottles and the bones of the night / I felt a pain in my shoulder blade / Like a pencil point? A love bite? Cant Run But from Rhythm of the Saints
all of Graceland (Yes, the whole album.)
the story about drinking and playing songs with some guy in a bar when theyd heard John Lennon died. The Late Great Johnny Ace on Hearts and Bones]
Free to wander wherever they choose / Are traveling together / In the Sangre de Cristo / The Blood of Christ Mountains / Of New Mexico Hearts and Bones title track
Theres also something to be said for the increased clarity of these remastered CDs. Ladysmith Black Mambazos opening a cappella on Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes is so much more distinct that it almost feels like your brain is translating the acts South African language for you.
A great touch to a great American treasure in Graceland, and the same applied to a few really solid Simon albums. I think Hearts and Bones really ranks up there with some of the greatest pastoral stuff he ever recorded, and The Rhythm of the Saints is definitely a good listen all the way through. One Trick Pony is definitely passable and possessive of highlights (Thats Why God Made the Movies and God Bless the Absentee) ,but its a bit behind the rest here. Afro-folk-pop-rock on, Paul.