Paul Simon: In the Blue Light (Sony)

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How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns
Paul Simon: In the Blue Light (Sony)
At the end of his recent, valuable if slightly flawed, authorised biography of Paul Simon by Robert Hilburn, the musician said his next project would be to go back and re-record and re-arrange some of his favourite but overlooked songs from his vast back-catalogue.

“He'll never finish that album. It won't be challenging enough,” Simon's friend, the artist Chuck Close, said.

Well, this is that album, finished and with longtime co-producer Roy Halee and a cast of top session players, jazz musicians (Wynton Marsalis, John Patitucci, Jack DeJohnette, Steve Gadd and others), friends such as Bill Frisell, an arrangement by Bryce Dessner of the National on Can't Run But, the chamber group yMusic . . .

So Simon wasn't taking this project lightly, although Hilburn's book confirmed that when it comes to music Simon never takes his work casually.

Four of the songs – Love, Pigs Sheep and Wolves, The Teacher and Darling Lorraine – were on his 2000 album You're The One which was his return to form and the public arena after the disaster of The Capeman. But others go back to One Man's Ceiling is Another Man's Floor ('73) and Some Folk's Lives Roll Easy ('75), the early Eighties (How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns from One Trick Pony, the wonderful Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War from Hearts and Bones) and up to Questions for Angels from his terrific So Beautiful or So What (2011).

For most that will seem a mix of the unfamiliar or lesser-known alongside a couple of personal favourites . . . but of course these are often slippery jazz re-arrangements (a humorous New Orleans street parade swing on Pigs) or imbuing some of the wisdom of age and a conversational tone in others (the heartbreaking Darling Lorraine).

On some of the ballads piano – elegantly jazz-classical on Some Folks' Lives Roll Easy with sax by Joe Lovano – is to the fore which alone changes the mood. The Brazilian guitarists Odair and Sergio Assad, and saxophonist Walter Blanding, shift The Teacher to another continent, and the standout arrangement is that by Dessner for yMusic on Can't Run But (from Rhythm of the Saints).

The 2am sound of How the Heart Approaches is quite beautiful and Simon's vocals are warm and sensitive, belying his age (He'll be 77 in October).

The last album which came from the Simon direction was the godawful remix of Graceland which was not just unnecessary but stupid. Quite why Simon approved of it defies understanding, so if there is going to be a coda to his career as he retires from performances in a few days then this is a much more more valuable document of a restless mind and consummate songwriter.

There is a considerable amount at Elsewhere about Paul Simon, including an archival interview starting here

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GlimmerTwin - Sep 17, 2018

Very fair review Graham , there are some great arrangements on here , I would have done the whole Rhythm of the Saints album as per "Can't Run But" (the highlight for me instead of some of the lesser tracks from "You're the One" , would be interesting to hear his rationale with some of these selections.
Re the Hilburn book - currently reading it and yes fills in a chronology and some insight but overall is a bit slight - from Simon's point of view is a comfortable , non dirt racking or controversial biography. Having just finished Joe Hagen's Jann Wenner book, I can see how things can fall off the rails with Author & Subject (in the latter case quite hilariously - highly recommended)

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