Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Worth It In 2011: #26 - Paul Simon

Paul Simon
So Beautiful Or So What
(Hear Music)

Sure signs that I am an old man, Rolling Stone edition:

1. Of all the Best of 2011 lists I've read so far, I have the most albums in common with Rolling Stone's, and that includes the PopMatters list to which I contributed. (This album was on both lists.)

2. I've started reading the music articles in Rolling Stone, not just the political screeds; and not just reading, I'm enjoying the music articles! Even the recent "100 Greatest Guitarists" nonsense has gone onto my bookshelf, because they offered just enough technical detail to pique my interest in those (almost exclusively) guys. For instance, someday soon I'll want to figure out what it means that Albert King "used an indecipherable secret tuning, hitting notes with his thumb", so I'll listen to a bunch of Albert King and see how he sounds different than all those other (almost exclusively) guys. Then I'll report back, and this'll turn into a blues blog read exclusively by old men. Lookee, there's Paul Simon at #95 on the list of best guitarists! Apparently he is better than Sonny Sharrock, who is NOT on the list. Should I listen to Bert Jansch? Simon sez Yes! He also sez "Dazzling Blue" off the new album is folk fingerpicking "on top of this rhythm with Indian musicians playing in 12/8". Beautiful song -- simple, in love with wife and existence, with as sure a sense of rhythm as anybody else on this list. In his somewhat soporific PBS special (pledge week!), he was impressive, but he limited his impressive displays to some virtuosic runs he had clearly worked out in advance. Not much in the way of extended improvisationals, in other words, but my, was he fluid.

3. Simon produced my favorite music quote of the year, also in RS: "I put the wildebeest in just to change the sound." (I should figure out which song he's talking about.) In addition to rhythm, the guy's obsessed with sounds -- wildebeest sounds, percussion sounds, sampled sounds, whatever different sounds he can pull out of his guitar and fit onto his records in subtle ways. More than almost any singer-songwriter his age (maybe excepting Neil Young?), Simon knows his game isn't just lyrics-melody-voice -- yet he EXCELS at lyrics-melody-voice. He just throws in all that other stuff, too.

4. (I fear we've veered from the original thesis.) Here's what I said at Sheep & Goats:
“Most folks, they don’t get when I’m jokin’,” he tosses off in a deep Bing Crosby voice only his wife knew about. This occurs in the middle of “Love Is Eternal Sacred Light”, with lyrics linking the Big Bang to terrorist bombs, a beat best described as wood-flute hoedown, and a title like a Divine Styler outtake. This album is weird. It’s also effortless, a confident weirdo singing about whatever interests him — this time out, God and love. He hits on a dead lady while waiting in the line to heaven, for instance. But he also attributes his marriage to divine providence, kicks everything off with a preacher-sampling Christmas song, and teaches his kids to add to the world’s beauty like Sara Groves, so I’ll call it a CCM album until God and his only Son pay me a “courtesy call”. Admittedly, it’s groovier than most CCM (or most rap) — two meandering ballads aside, the rhythms subsume all, as is usually the case with prime Simon. How many songwriters would carefully construct a beat out of guitar tremolo, the way he does in “The Afterlife”? Yet he makes it all sound as careless as the album’s best line, “I am an empty house on Weed Street.”

(Way better than tUnE-yArDz' Whokill.)

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