Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What – Album Review

Paul Simon

Paul Simon’s got a gumbo on the stove. It’s his new album So Beautiful or So What and it’s bubbling with a spice rack of sounds. It’s a precarious mix of African rhythms, world beats, chants, orchestral sweeps, rocking guitars, and diverse vocals. And within this fine mix of sounds lies the true secret ingredient to Simon’s brew, one that he has built a career on and one that comes shining through all over this record: his poetry.

One of rock’s finest poet’s, Simon delivers a record that could be viewed as the distant cousin to his game-changing 1986 release Graceland. The depth in the opening number “Getting Ready for Christmas Day,” a song that uses a 1941 sermon by Rev. J.M. Gates to fill out its world view theme, is a jangly number that sets the tone for the record. On the second track, “The Afterlife,” Simon begins his discussion on morality, a topic that seems prominent to him at this stage in his life and one that runs through a number of the tracks. It’s a trip to the other side, an off the cuff chuckle at the afterlife, interspersed with a longing for understanding the vastness to it all.

The next couple of tunes, “Dazzling Blue” and “Rewrite,” hold strong to the organic combination of instruments and the fusion of intricate sounds. On the latter of the two, Simon uses his talent of turning a phrase to drop you into a father’s heart and shows us a man who’s longing for another crack at life and a final chance at redemption.

By the time he takes us through the fifth track, Simon has laid a strong foundation for a great record. He uses the next number “Love in Hard Times” to slow down the pace and interject another layer to the spiritual undertone that defines this album. Without missing a beat, he is back at it again with the next number “Love is An Eternal Sacred Light,” cranking up the volume and tempo, as a garden hose-gone-wild guitar part sprays over the song’s mantra: love.

Simon delivers one last slowed down interlude, the instrumental “Amulet” before closing the 10 track album. The first song of the last three is “Questions for Angels,” where Simon takes us on a walk through the mind of a homeless pilgrim as he strolls through New York questioning his faith.

The next two numbers, “Love and Blessings” and “So Beautiful or So What,” return to the up-tempo full band, world beat sound that makes this record so enjoyable. The apt title “So Beautiful or So What” can be seen as a humble metaphor to Simon’s overall theme on the record. Woven into the tracks is such beauty, presented in such a fluid way that it never overpowers you with the message. It’s delivered as only Simon can–with true heart and beauty.

6 Responses to Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What – Album Review
  1. Christopher Jennings Penders
    June 7, 2011 | 12:52 am

    Just picked up this CD, Rick. You’re right! I think it’s a nice continuum to Graceland. What I find fascinating about Paul Simon is that he is STILL making relevant music. What happened to Art Garfunkle? You never hear anything from him. Seems like duos that break up, one typically seems to continue being relevant while the other fades into oblivion.

    Look at Wham!
    George Michael came out (No pun intended) LoL and made music for long time. What happened to his musical partner?

    Just some of the crazy thoughts that flitter through my crazy mind.


  2. Rick
    May 19, 2011 | 5:10 pm

    No doubt, it’s a great record and my favorite so far this year. I would also highly recommend the Greg Allman Low Country Blues cd. Looks like those old rockers still got something left in the tank!

  3. joe sonny giantonio
    May 19, 2011 | 3:51 pm

    Rick, great review! The first time I heard Afterlife I was hooked! The best music/lyrics to come out from a major recording artist this year!

  4. Rick
    May 18, 2011 | 6:03 pm

    Thanks for the tip of the Facebook network I am going to check it out. I highly recommend the new Paul Simon record, we saw him a few weeks ago and it was a real thrill to be in the presence of someone I consider a true rock and roll icon. The new album has been playing on and on in my truck, one of the best records I have heard in years.


  5. Rick
    May 16, 2011 | 4:39 am

    Chris- Hello Connecticut! Thanks for checking out the site.

  6. Christopher Jennings Penders
    May 15, 2011 | 9:57 pm

    Hi Rick:
    I’m friends w/Rob. He and Lisa have mentioned your blog several times to me and I FINALLY found. Am following you on Twitter now too. Your review of Paul Simon’s new album is very intriguing and I’m looking forward to hearing it in full.

    On a completely different note, do you know about Networked Blogs on Facebook? It’s a way to get followers. The link to register your blog is below:

    I use it and have gotten some new followers from it.
    Talk soon, maybe.

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