CD review: Paul Simon ‘Songwriter’ set fresh with new ‘Sound’; 4 more reissues due

While it’s customary for best-of collections to add a recent song or two to freshen the brew, rarely has one offered so fresh and important a track as The Sound of Silence leading off Paul Simon’s two-disc, 32-song Songwriter collection.

Recorded in concert in June, it’s a stirring voice-and-guitar performance of his Simon & Garfunkel classic from the ’60s — which was virtually the theme song of landmark film The Graduate.  And it kicks off this career-spanning set with a vibrancy that trumps any sense of this being a warmed-over array of familiar songs.

The remaining tracks Simon chose from throughout his solo and S&G career — speaking of which, he provides not the duo’s performance of Bridge Over Troubled Water, but Aretha Franklin’s, and not the duo’s The Boxer, but his own live version from Central Park. Sorry, Artie.

The other songs are from the 12-time Grammy winner’s many solo albums, ranging from obvious hits (Still Crazy After All These Years, Late in the Evening, Kodachrome) to astutely chosen album tracks, one of the best being the moving and beautifully melodic Peace Like a River from his first, self-titled solo LP.

This set’s own title underscores what set Simon apart and ensured the split of S&G: Simon was the duo’s songwriter, and that particular creative talent has been the backbone and impetus of his distinguished music career for almost half a century. (Simon turned 70 on Oct. 13.)

It’s also gratifying that Simon’s body of work continues to be extolled by Legacy with four more remastered and expanded editions of his solo albums due at retail today (Oct. 24) along with the Songwriter set: Graceland, Hearts and Bones, One Trick Pony and The Rhythm of the Saints.

Each has its own singular style and rhythmic departures. Perhaps none are as highly regarded as Grammy Album of the Year winner Graceland, but on Songwriter Simon also wisely includes lesser known, underappreciated gems. They include the moving title track of Hearts and Bones, an ’80s flop that deserved more attention than it got. (And how good does Simon look in his bright-hued, skinny-tied ’83 threads on the cover?)

Is Paul Simon the greatest pop composer of the past half-century? You’d get some debate over that, though only a few artists such as Simon and Paul McCartney have had enough career longevity to qualify. But he’s certainly in the top echelon of musical artists in our time, as this collection and its accompanying reissues so eloquently demonstrate.

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