Saturday, September 29, 2012

Paul Simon 3: There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

In one of the fastest follow-ups of his career—at a pace he’s yet to beat—Paul Simon surfaced with his second solo album since leaving Artie all his lonesome. With cover art to match its playful title, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon follows the auteur to Muscle Shoals and back, trying out different styles of music, with an even larger selection of studio cats than before.
The first, obvious single was “Kodachrome”, a snapshot (ha!) of a time when cameras had film and copyright laws required the cover to inform us that “KODACHROME® is a registered trademark for color film.” More than anything, its wonderful opening couplet (“When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school/It’s a wonder I can think at all”) still resonates long after the last Fotomat closed. “Tenderness” is one of the more esoteric doo-wop songs ever recorded, helped out by the Dixie Hummingbirds. One of their members gets a featured vocal on “Take Me To The Mardi Gras”, which is nice and doesn’t evokes that festival until the fade. With its Quincy Jones strings, “Something So Right” became something of a standard, gaining several covers almost immediately, but he puts a lot of unexpected bite into “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor”.
“American Tune” has become one of his signature songs, even if he did borrow it from Bach, who’d borrowed it from somebody else. It probably had a different meaning during the Nixon administration, but needless to say he’s since learned to perform it with a gentler hand than the rhythm ‘n strings here. “Was A Sunny Day” serves almost the same purpose of comic relief as “Why Don’t You Write Me” had; there’s a puzzling reference to the doo-wop classic “Mr. Earl” and backing vocals by two of the then-unknown Roches. The platitude closing side one wasn’t enough, because now he tells us we must “Learn How To Fall” before we must fly, and it’s matched with a daring, almost psychedelic backing (or as far as a Hammond organ and fuzzy steel guitar can go). “St. Judy’s Comet” is the sound of a man trying desperately to sing his young son to sleep, and it’s just plain charming without being cloying. And we end sort of when we came in, for “Loves Me Like A Rock” is about as meaningless as the hits from the previous album, but boy, is it catchy (Dixie Hummingbirds again).
If Paul Simon was tentative, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon is a lot more confident, and a justified hit. The four demos included on the reissue, while very gentle compared to their eventual recorded versions, exude just as much confidence, even “American Tune” with incomplete lyrics.

Paul Simon There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (1973)—
2004 CD reissue: same as 1973, plus 4 extra tracks

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