So Beautiful or So What
There’s not a lot of Anglo-American or British rock musicians who’ve recorded albums that draw heavily on multicultural rhythms and melodies, supported by handpicked musicians from around the globe. Simon is one, along with Peter Gabriel, Sting and a few others.
He started down the international road on his sixth album,1986’s Afro-pop-infused “Graceland,” and continued with 1990’s Brazilian-influenced “The Rhythm of the Saints.” His two studio albums proper between then and “So Beautiful” (2000’s “You’re the One” and 2006’s Brian Eno collaboration “Surprise”) contain decidedly lower-key world-music elements.
But here Simon—whose songs more resemble musical poems these days—wholeheartedly re-embraces the genre, especially on “The Afterlife,” “Dazzling Blue” (with guests Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver), “Rewrite” and “Love Is Eternal Sacred Light” (featuring a sampled Sonny Terry harmonica solo).
Most of the rest of the album is made up of interesting twists: the short instrumental “Amulet”; the bluesy “Getting Ready for Christmas Day,” which samples and is written around a 1941 sermon of the same name; the double shot of stripped-down, mildly orchestrated ballads in “Love and Hard Times” and “Questions for the Angels”; and “Love and Blessings,” which sees Simon duetting with a sampled Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet.
Last but not least, the highly syncopated, offbeat title track can’t decide if it’s swamp blues or soul jazz, but therein lies its beauty. In fact, the entire album makes an art form of anachronism, turning what should be incongruous sounds into something marvelously homogenized.
Equally amazing is that, world-music guests and old-time samples aside, the album was performed mostly by Simon, longtime guitarist Vincent Nguini and drummer Jim Oblon—with not a lick of bass anywhere. The production, by Simon’s ’70s producer Phil Ramone, is impeccable.
1. Getting Ready For Christmas Day
2. The Afterlife
3. Dazzling Blue
5. Love And Hard Times
6. Love Is Eternal Sacred Light
8. Questions For The Angels
9. Love And Blessings
10. So Beautiful Or So What
Total time: 38:09