Paul Simon may have titled his latest studio album So Beautiful or So What, but the same name could apply to his catalogue relaunch at Legacy Recordings. So Beautiful has been hailed as a return to form for Simon, writing with a guitar for the first time in many years. A timely reminder of that form and of the style Simon both recalls and updates on the new disc can be rediscovered on these four reissued titles. Paul Simon, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, Live Rhymin’ and Still Crazy After All These Years are all back on the original Columbia label, and all are “so beautiful.” Why the “so what,” then? All except the newly remastered and expanded Live Rhymin’ are duplicated from the 2004 Rhino editions, meaning that they’re a pass for longtime Simon fans. But for those who might have missed these titles seven years ago, or might be experiencing Simon for the first time even as bands like Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear pay homage to his sound, each is a timely reminder of why the man’s singular music has endured. Live Rhymin’, bolstered by the inclusion of “Kodachrome” and “Something So Right,” is a truly welcome addition to the catalogue.
1970’s Bridge Over Troubled Water struck many as the summation (and epitaph?) not only for the Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel partnership but for the 1960s itself and its hopes and ideals. January 1972’s release of Paul Simon (Columbia 30750, reissued Legacy 88697 82023 2) formalized the break-up of the duo, coming over a year before Garfunkel’s post-Simon and Garfunkel debut. If Bridge Over Troubled Water was sweeping and cinematic, Paul Simon was low-key and quirky. Simon and Garfunkel had incorporated different textures into songs like “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” but Simon's fascination with world music was immediately evident on the Jamaica-recorded reggae of “Mother and Child Reunion,” surely one of the most upbeat songs ever recorded on a somber subject. Jazz had also begun creeping into his compositions, and CTI regulars like Ron Carter and Airto Moreira contributed to the album. So did violin great Stephane Grappelli, whose instantly recognizable tone is heard on “Hobo’s Blues,” co-written with Simon. Hal Blaine, Joe Osborn and Larry Knechtel, all familiar hands from Bridge, made appearances, but most tracks were characterized by a tougher sound that left Garfunkel’s specter behind. From the self-discovery of “Duncan” to the glib, jaunty “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard,” it was clear that Simon was still finding fresh inspiration. As in 2004, the bonus tracks include an unreleased alternate of “Paranoia Blues” and demos of “Duncan” and “Me and Julio.” The latter features early, unused lyrics and musical variations, as well, making for fascinating listening.
The album sleeve for 1973’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (Columbia 32280, reissued Legacy 88697 82022 2) promised a more upbeat affair, decorated with a rainbow, a Mardi Gras mask and a portrait of the artist as a young(er) man. Its bright pop music, with soul-deep overtones, delivered on that promise. Simon had co-produced his last album with Simon and Garfunkel right-hand man Roy Halee. For Rhymin’ Simon, Paul enlisted Phil Ramone to co-produce four tracks, and Halee and Paul Samwell-Smith (of Cat Stevens fame) each collaborated on one song. The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, whose unique sound could be heard on many of the album’s cuts, earned a co-production credit on five songs. Rhymin’ Simon yielded four now-standards: the ebullient “Kodachrome” and “Loves Me Like A Rock,” and the ballads “American Tune” and “Something So Right.” This may be the artist’s quintessential solo album, with every track truly outstanding. “Tenderness,” with background vocals by the Dixie Hummingbirds and horns arranged by Allen Toussaint, might have been directed at Simon’s former partner. It’s cutting but nowhere near as vitriolic as some of the other famous break-ups played out in song: “What can I do/Much of what you say is true/I know you see through me/But there’s no tenderness/Beneath your honesty…You and me were such good friends/What’s your hurry?/You and me could make amends/I’m not worried.” Rhymin’ Simon goes Dixieland on “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” and Simon is at his wry best on “One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor.” The aching, poignant “American Tune” sounded tailor-made for Garfunkel, but Simon handled it with confidence. The best of the bonus material is an early attempt as “Something So Right” entitled “Let Me Live in Your City,” and demos have been appended of “American Tune,” “Loves Me Like a Rock” and “Take Me to the Mardi Gras.”
Continue after the jump with Live Rhymin' and Still Crazy After All These Years!
1974’s Live Rhymin’ (Columbia 32855, reissued Legacy 88697 82000 2) echoed the title of its predecessor, and seemed another statement designed to assert its artist’s individuality. This time around, Simon further embraced his exploratory sensibility by awarding Brazilian band Urubamba and gospel group The Jessy Dixon Singers billing on the album’s front cover and even giving the Dixon Singers one track to themselves, “Jesus is the Answer.” For the first time, Simon offered up Simon and Garfunkel classics in live versions on disc, playing “The Boxer” with its additional verse as well as “Homeward Bound,” “El Condor Pasa,” “The Sound of Silence,” “America” and of course, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Those six tracks plus “Jesus” only left room on the single LP for five solo Simon songs, though this has now been rectified by the inclusion of bonus tracks “Kodachrome” and “Something So Right.” There is frustratingly still no information as to when these tracks were recorded; though drawn from Simon’s 1973-1974 tour in the wake of Rhymin’ Simon, no further information has been released. If the performances aren't definitive, they're all enjoyable, and Urubamba shines when backing the singer on songs like "Duncan" and "El Condor Pasa." Dan Hersch’s remastering under the supervision of Bill Inglot and Steve Berkowitz has given the album superior sound to its previous Warner Bros. CD reissue, and as Hersch and Inglot also mastered the other titles in the series, its sound is comparable to those discs.
The final offering in this batch is 1975’s Grammy-winning Still Crazy After All These Years (Columbia 33540, reissued Legacy 88697 81999 2). It was Simon’s final album before a five-year hiatus from recording, and the singer sounds more laid-back throughout, no doubt aided by jazz-oriented session players like David Sanborn and Michael Brecker. Bob James arranged two tracks, including the title song, and contributed to others on electric piano, and James’ CTI labelmate Joe Beck provided electric guitar. The memorable title song was one of two recorded at Muscle Shoals; the other was the auspicious reunion with Art Garfunkel, “My Little Town.” Though the song is tougher than the duo’s sixties recordings, the rapport was unmistakable, and they were rewarded with a Top Ten single hit. ("My Little Town" also appeared on Garfunkel’s album Breakaway, released the same month as Still Crazy.) The haughty, clever “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” originally conceived as a rhyming exercise by Simon for his son, was the biggest single of Simon’s solo career. Two bonus tracks are included. One is a demo of “Gone at Last” with the Jessy Dixon Singers, and they also appear with Phoebe Snow on the finished album track. The other is a demo of “Slip Slidin’ Away,” one of Simon’s finest songs, which originated during the Still Crazy sessions. (The song was released in 1977 as a single and as part of Simon’s Greatest Hits, Etc. That compilation received a rare Columbia CD some years ago and has never been reissued.) Too bad the single, too, wasn’t added to the bonus material.
As the 2004 Rhino discs had superlative remastering and bonus material added, it’s understandable why Simon opted not to further upgrade these titles. It’s wonderful to have them back in print, and for those interested, this time they’re in jewel cases rather than the Rhino digipaks. With that said, it’s our hope that even more expansive Legacy Editions might arrive in the future for titles like Graceland, and that the artist might finally consent to historical liner notes for his releases. (The three studio albums have full lyrics but no notes.) The original Columbia label is on the CD face for Live Rhymin’; it, too, would have been a nice touch on the other titles, as the artist has finally come full circle. But for an introduction to Simon’s varied and diverse solo career, one could hardly do better than pick up this quartet of titles and enjoy these distinctly American tunes.