CD Notes: Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What
Praise be to the Lord for giving us Paul Simon, for it is much like Christmas Day whenever he gives us a new album. In 2011, Christ sends down his love on the wings of a Jew in So Beautiful or So What. He particularly sings in anticipation of the true King of the Jews in the first song and lead single "Getting Ready for Christmas Day". With any luck, this song will become a staple of Christmas music broadcasting, providing a moment of real and moving art amidst the regular cheap sentimental nonsense.
He took the inspiration for this rockin' blues groove from the title of a 1941 sermon by a charismatic preacher JM Gates, and laid chunks of that vintage recording right into this modern pop song like they always belonged there.
"But when Christmas comes, no one knows where you'll be. You might ask me. I might be laying in some lonesome grave, getting ready for the Christmas Day."
As the narrator hustles two jobs trying to get up money to play Santa Claus, he's thinking on his nephew doing his third hitch in Iraq and wishing he could go back and re-assure his parents that they never missed the things they didn't have growing up. They were all just getting ready for the glory and the power and the story of the Christmas Day.
At least half the songs on this album are clearly instant classics from just a few days with the album. Rolling Stone magazine says it's his best album since Graceland. I concur with this high opinion, though they don't get a lot better than Surprise, Songs from the Capeman and Rhythm of the Saints. Still, this album rates right up there.
I might more say that this is the Simon album that sounds most like Graceland, though that's not very much. Still, Rev Gates getting ready for the Christmas Day was after about the same idea of deliverance as the pilgrims waiting to be received in Graceland. Then there is the descedent in "The Afterlife" [with a little of the zydeco DNA of "That Was Your Mother"] waiting to be received by the Lord. Of course, before you get a personal meeting with Him, "You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line" with Moses and Buddah and everybody else. But then in the ultimate presence of His infinite love, you might just forget all those questions that seemed so important to finally ask him.
Like the song "Graceland," the title song here has something of a highly personalized and modernized idea of a classic Sun Records guitar sound. But Scotty Moore could never have dreamed up this artsy stuff. Paul Simon gets up a nice slightly understated high drama of beauty even in the tragedy of life as the album ends with a contemplation of the assassination of MLK. That Christmas Day seems so far away.
You really have to hear "Rewrite." I start to say that it has the most amazing and beautiful guitar sounds on any Paul Simon song, but I'm not sure exactly what instruments are playing the things here. There are liner credits for instruments I can't even spell with the booklet in front of me. But somebody here plays stuff like I never heard before.
Then there's "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light" which is a beautiful title to meditate on. In the documentary DVD that comes with the album, Simon talks about watching a guy in Missisippi playing Delta blues and giving him this cigar box guitar, and he's picking out a little of the riff that becomes this song. Except that when I hear the record, it sounds like some freaky idea of a techno record - though you'd certainly never mistake this for Moby. So it's kind of a Delta blues techno record with strong hooks and a great feeling of dramatic urgency. If that idea sounds at all intriguing to you, then you'll likely think this is an awesome song.
May God bless and protect Paul Simon, that His children may be blessed with more albums this wonderful.
Paul Simon Photo Gallery
Paul Simon - King of the Jews
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