CD reviews–Paul Simon: Still amazing after all these years

Yes, it was hard for Simon & Garfunkel fans to accept the mega-popular folk-based duo’s breakup after smash 1970 album Bridge Over Troubled Water. But then Paul Simon–always the group’s songwriter if not its principal vocalist–soldiered on alone and showed us why it was for the best.

Want evidence? The early years of Simon’s amazing solo career are remastered and recaptured — with bonus tracks and expanded packaging — on Columbia/Legacy’s handsome new editions of 1972’s Paul Simon, 1973’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, 1974’s Paul Simon In Concert: Live Rhymin’ and 1975’s Still Crazy After All These Years.

We’re talking big sales and major airplay. We’re talking Grammy awards. We’re talking a solo career that allowed Simon to stretch his musical muscles in so many ways, from the reggae-driven Mother and Child Reunion — a #4 Billboard hit — and the South American flavored Duncan (charango and flutes) to the gospel glories of Love Me Like a Rock and Gone At Last — not to mention such bouncy pop hits as Kodachrome, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover and Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.

But less heralded album tracks also shine among Simon’s hopeful, heartfelt songs, including the pensive yet lilting Run That Body Down and the swampy verve of Peace Like a River from the Paul Simon album as well as the lovely S&G-styled anthem American Tune. And the melodies often are as rich as the lyrics.

Standout bonus tracks include an acoustic demo of Take Me to the Mardi Gras, an unfinished-lyrics demo of American Tune and the original demo of Gone At Last with the Jersey Dixon Singers. The live album also has robust never-released versions of Kodachrome and Something So Right.

Simon would reach his solo peak with 1986’s Grammy-winning megahit Graceland, but any and all of his albums have tracks worth treasuring. And it’s good to know Sony Music Entertainment has a new licensing agreement to release all of his solo work (most of it originally on Warner) under one recordings roof for the first time.

Nine more albums have followed these (and one preceded them, in 1965’s solo Paul Simon Songbook, with future S&G songs). But this four-part reissue is a strong start, and a reminder of how a boy from Queens became a poet troubadour for our times.

 

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