Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Paul Simon 17: So Beautiful Or So What

After all this time, and a handful of, frankly, “eh” albums, one might be forgiven for not expecting to be wowed another time by Paul Simon. So Beautiful Or So What is sneaky in that it starts out tepidly, but soon elevates to something special.
Much of the album was recorded alone at his home studio, so there are plenty of loops and effects. These seem to dominate “Getting Ready For Christmas Day”, which is built around a sermon from several decades earlier, then becomes a relevant lament for children stationed overseas during the holidays and the determination to muddle through somehow. The same clattery backing supports “The Afterlife”, one of his more successful attempts at approaching aging and death with humor. “Dazzling Blue” has echoes of “Under African Skies”, which is fine with us. A very intricate guitar part, half plucked and half strummed, drives “Rewrite”, which rises above the “help me, thank you” hook in the chorus with subtle verses. Those tracks will not prepare you for “Love And Hard Times”, a gorgeous rumination on creation and blessings, with a gentle piano and string arrangement to match his gentle guitar.
“Love Is Eternal Sacred Light” is almost a sermon of its own, with an uptempo backing and near-gospel delivery. We take another break for the exquisite “Amulet”, a solo guitar instrumental, leading into further rumination on “Questions For The Angels”, wherein a pilgrim’s stroll through Brooklyn takes in a billboard of Jay-Z. “Love And Blessings” samples from another old gospel recording, but wisely limits it to the choruses. Meanwhile, the vocal, guitar, and bass all follow the same basic melody, but just out of phase to keep from unison. Finally, the title track, digs into a dirty groove, reiterating all the themes we’d heard thus far.
So Beautiful Or So What really is a pleasant surprise, especially when you’re not expecting much. Even with all the contributors in the credits, and the time it took to create, it still exudes a low-key presentation, with a fresh sound. Well worth revisiting.

Paul Simon So Beautiful Or So What (2011)—

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