It’s interesting to hear where Paul Simon has ended up in a seemingly happy place that’s sunnier than his serious beginning with folk-rock super group Simon and Garfunkel.
The new Simon retrospective, A Bridge Over Time, is a neat, logical chronicling of his career. Given the abundance of material and choices, Simon and his compilers chose wisely.
There’s only a couple of exceptions to this. The exclusion of Simon’s reworking of Scarborough Fair and the majestic title track of Graceland.
His work is broken down in three periods here: Simon and Garfunkel, his early solo work and post Graceland music. The early misconception of Simon as a “folkie” stems from the S&G years, but as this and other recordings suggest, pure folk songs are in short supply.
Sounds of Silence starts the compilation. It’s a stunner of a track in all its rough beauty. The grandiosity of Bridge Over Troubled Water is then revealed as essentially a Garfunkel solo vocal song that’s written by Simon. These heights weren’t reached again by Simon until his Graceland period and never have been in the effette solo efforts of Garfunkel.
Simon’s early solo work is effectively recaptured. The highlights here are Mother and Child Reunion and 50 Ways to Leave your Lover. The former tune, a soulful reggae song, is a continuation of Simon’s fascination with “world” music. The latter track is a goofy and clever display of his particular gift for wedging conversational wordplay into a tune.
The build up to the Graceland period can be heard in Late in the Evening, a skittery, horn and percussion-driven song with a jumpy hook. Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes and You Can Call Me Al then summon the exuberant spirit and shining ambiance of the Graceland album.
These, in turn, lead to the travelogue songs that suggest movement and wilderness, that emerge in late period songs like Spirit Voice and That’s Where I Belong. These album enders are transparently personal. They may lack the monumental impact of the early Simon and Garfunkel work but they retain integrity. It’s quality music.
— Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews new releases for The Morning Star every Friday.