The Rhythm of the Saints
by David Chiu
Paul Simon’s career flourished a second time in the ’80s, this time through his exploration of world music. That came in the form of 1986’s masterful Graceland, in which the songwriter incorporated the sounds of South Africa into his impressionistic style of storytelling. With contributions from Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Rockin Dopsie and Los Lobos, Graceland is a tapestry of rich and memorable music, from the soulful “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “Homeless,” while tracks such as “The Boy in the Bubble,” “All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints” and “Gumboots” evoke New Orleans/zydeco; “Under African Skies,” featuring backing vocals from Linda Ronstadt is a lovely track. Graceland doesn’t lack in commercial pop songs as the hit track “You Can Call Me Al” is evidence of. No surprise that this record deservedly won Album of the Year. Simon furthered his journey into world music, this time tackling the sounds of Brazil with 1990’s The Rhythm of the Saints– it is totally similar in spirit with Graceland as far as the dazzling, rhythmic playing is concerned. “The Obvious Child” kicks off the record on an amazing high note with its exuberant percussion, followed by tracks featuring some wonderful Afro/Latin-tinged tracks: the joyous-sounding “The Coast,” “Born at the Right Tie” and the horn-driven “Proof”; while the moody “Further to Fly” counterbalances the uplifting tracks. Both of these Simon benchmark albums have been reissued with bonus track of mainly demos/alternate takes.
Several of the songs from those albums also appear on Simon’s most recent compilation, appropriately titled Songwriter. Not so much a greatest hits album, this collection emphasizes a 50-year-body of work from one of the greatest musical wordsmiths. It begins with a live recording of The Sounds of Silence at Webster Hall earlier this year and runs through mostly Simon’s solo career. (Interestingly, there is a version of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, not by S&G but a cover by Aretha Franklin). The common thread of Simon as an eloquent and clever composer with diaristic/journalistic sensibilities runs through an impressive body of tracks: “American Tune,” “Still Crazy After All These Years,” “Late in the Evening,” “Rene and Georgette Magritte with their Dog After the War.” It also brings into focus some underrated songs such as “Hearts and Bones” and those from 1997’s Songs from ‘The Capeman.’ To this day, Simon continues to go strong as a composer/lyricist with three tracks from the recent So Beautiful or So What album that is on this recent set — among them “Rewrite” (whose percussive effects brilliantly echoes that of a typewriter at work ) and the wonderful “Love and Hard Times.” Songwriter seems to be restating what’s already obvious about Paul Simon, but it’s still a worthwhile look at one of the most important artists of the last six decades.
Also reissued: One Trick Pony, Hearts and Bones