PAUL SIMON Paul Simon (DCC Compact Classics)
Nothing to do with Philips doomed Digital Compact Cassette format, fortunately, Californian company DCCs stock in trade is the reissuing of classic pop, rock and jazz albums in a manner that befits their importance. To this end, DCCs numbered, limited edition reissues have heavy, laminated cardboard sleeves that duplicate all the information to be found on the original issues, are mastered from analogue tapes using an all vacuum-tube cutting system and are lovingly poured onto 180 grams worth of virgin vinyl. All of which should make for a pretty impressive sounding record, for those of us that care about such things. Eager to see how much better a decent audiophile pressing could be (or not), I snapped up their reissue of Paul Simons first post-Simon & Garfunkel album, chosen because a) I didnt already have it and b) the mint, original issue "There Goes Rhymin Simon" that I picked up for a derisory £2 at a record fair is my current jawdrop reference recording ("Take Me To The Mardi Gras", in particular, sounds scarily realistic), and would make a reasonably scientific benchmark for judging the worth of DCCs painstaking effort.
Musically "Paul Simon" is something of a ragbag of influences: taking its cue from the eclecticism of "Bridge Over Troubled Water", reggae jostles for space next to jazz, blues, Latin and Simons more traditional urban folk. This all makes for an album thats fitfully entertaining: the likes of "Mother And Child Reunion", "Duncan" and "Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard" are rightly regarded as classics, but the remainder seems to have been, perhaps justifiably, airbrushed out of rock history - songs such as "Armistice Day" seem underwritten, without the clarity of direction that youd expect from such a master tunesmith. Still, the combined talent assembled here gives the material fine support, including performances from many of the "Bridge Over Troubled Water" backup musicians, Whitney Houstons mum, Los Incas and Stephane Grappelli.
The crunch for any audiophile reissue, though, is what it sounds like, and at first I was disappointed. Playing it at the sort of volumes I reserve for when my neighbours are on holiday (because my neighbours were on holiday) I was impressed by the huge slabs of bass this DCC pressing possesses, and the discovery of hitherto unheard backing vocal lines on "Mother And Child Reunion" (a song Ive been playing since I was three!). Little details, like the sound of (presumably) Simon scratching his chin or drawing breath before singing a vocal, were clearly audible, and what I originally thought to be a high level of surface noise actually turned out to be the hiss of the master tape between tracks, something Id never heard before as its usually subsumed below the background roar that weve come to accept as inevitable with vinyl - DCC have clearly proved otherwise. On the other hand the treble had a glassy hardness and harshness that seemed closer to that expected from CD, and at odds with the claims of analogue and valve heritage on the cover, something that other more conventional recent 180 gram issues from the likes of Beck, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix have managed to avoid, and a trait completely absent from my control £2 record fair wonder.
Later listening at a more relaxed volume (because my neighbours had come back from their holiday!) lessened the effect, fortunately, suggesting that, all told, the DCC reissue process has much to offer any vinyl enthusiast who hasnt already got a pristine original pressing of the album concerned. Although not cheap - Diverse sell them for £22.90 each - the only alternative route to sonic nirvana is probably a season ticket on the record fair circuit and the perseverance of Sisyphus, and even then you wont find an original pressing as immaculately packaged as this.PAUL SIMON You're The One (Warner Bros.)
Side-stepping the soundtrack to his controversial Broadway musical "Songs From The Capeman", "You're The One" is Paul Simon's first solo work in a decade, and it's as similarly valuable as the last albums by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan in determining what's going to happen to the music we love now that the people who invented it are getting old(er). In Simon's case (he's 60 this year, it's probably worth pointing out) the answer has to be nothing. He's still documenting the hopes, dreams, fears and insecurities of his peer group, and doing so with an eye for detail that's possibly sharper than ever before. "You're The One" seems to have struck a chord with listeners of, or near enough to, Simon's age, almost as if, quietly, Simon has produced a talisman for his entire generation.
Not that you have to be approaching retirement to understand the charms of "You're The One". It's not infused with the timeless melodies of his Simon And Garfunkel or early solo work, it doesn't boast the globe-straddling cultural meltdown of "Graceland" or "The Rhythm Of The Saints", but in walking straight through the middle of expectations Simon has resurrected the restrained, contemplative aura of the neglected "One Trick Pony" and "Hearts And Bones" albums. Here he maps out the geography of a marriage ("Darling Lorraine", probably the album's highlight), deconstructs the songwriting process ("Señorita With A Necklace Of Tears"), and pans from childhood to whatever awaits us all ("Old", "Quiet"). The melodies might require two or three plays to inveigle their way into your consciousness, but the playing (Bakithi Kumalo, Steve Gadd and Abraham Laboriel are about as big-name as the credits get) and production are exemplary throughout. "You're The One" is a fine album, that shouldn't be allowed to slide away unnoticed through rock's ravenous history.
PAUL SIMON So Beautiful Or So What (Hear Music)
Paul Simon’s twelfth solo album is steeped in the same genre-hopping eclecticism and compassionate worldview that have typified his work the for last four decades, at least. “So Beautiful Or So What” is a sumptuous record, yielding surprise and invention no matter what angle you approach it from.
Thoughtful, effusive sleevenotes from Elvis Costello, of all people (well, they do both work for Starbucks nowadays) ease the listener into the album, but, really, this is nothing like hard work to enjoy and appreciate. “Getting Ready For Christmas Day” considers poverty and war whilst wrapping itself around samples of a 1941 sermon, and “The Afterlife” ruminates on the bureaucracy of heaven. During “Dazzling Blue” Simon exhorts “Turn your amp up and play your lonesome tune”, connected to the “Late In The Evening” line “I turned my amp up loud and I began to play” like the DNA fusilli on the cover image. “Rewrite” follows the progress of an author-savant, highlighting some glistening kora work, and in “Love And Hard Times” God and Jesus spend a Sunday morning visiting earth amidst an ornate yet pared-back pocket symphony. “Love Is Eternal Sacred Light” offers a God’s-eye hurtle through the history of the planet, featuring contributions by Christopher Bear of Grizzly Bear (Simon being pretty well-connected in hipster circles for a septuagenarian). During Brooklyn-set rumination on mortality “Questions For The Ages” a 96-note harp is made to sound as mournful as a departing subway train, and the title track’s jiggly study in chance and ambivalence culminates at the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Sinuous and slinky, “Love And Blessings” is urged along by its 1938 Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet sample, Simon duetting with the singers in ghostly synchronicity.
The luxuriousness extends to the album’s sonics as well. As immaculately produced as any record to bear Paul Simon’s name, the fine sounding vinyl version is accompanied with a voucher for…oh my gosh!...a 24/96 download of the album (plus a bonus live rehearsal version of the title track). Whilst a bit of a puzzle for anybody intending to punt it straight to an iPod, it can be burnt to a DVD to produce a silver disc with considerably more sonic potential than the commercial CD. It’s yet another surprise from an album that just seems to keep on giving.
Simon & Garfunkel