Paul Simon

Paul Simon's double-CD collection Songwriter showcases 32 songs handpicked and sequenced by the famous guitarist, vocalist and songwriter who came to fame first with his partner, singer Art Garfunkel, then saw further success with his litany of hit singles and albums. Divided into three distinct periods, Simon and Garfunkel material (though none of the duo's actual recordings are featured here) up through his pre-Graceland solo output then a copious amount of post-Graceland stuff, Songwriter is an extensive, eclectic and great sounding collection.

The first disc opens with a solo Simon performing (at times talking more than singing) a heretofore unreleased 2011 live 'The Sound Of Silence" from NYC's Webster Hall; he and his fantastic band on another live take, "The Boxer" from a 1991 Central Park show, followed by Aretha Franklin's studio recording of a gospel-flavored "Bridge Over Troubled Water," which features Franklin's piano playing and Billy Preston's organ. Her vocal simply doesn't fit the tune.

We're then into Simon's early solo catalog, lots of tunes you have heard before like the fantastic "Kodachrome," "Still Crazy After All These Years," the amazing bass playing of Jackie Jackson on "Mother And Child Reunion," and others you don't hear all that often. This is where Simon's choice of musicians serves the songs - the passing car feel of Steve Gadd's drumming on the title track of Hearts And Bones (the album that was supposed to be the  Simon and Garfunkel comeback record); Richard Tee's distinctive Fender Rhodes on the soft, talkative "Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War"; and the trio from Simon's Grammy-winning, mega-seller Graceland. There's the album's deceptively clever title track, the fun "Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes," and that rolling "The Boy In The Bubble" with Bakithi Kumalo's booming big bass and Adrian Belew on guitar synthesizer.

The second disc features even more amazing musicianship from the players Simon has surrounded himself with post Graceland and I wonder if this was intentional, to showcase not only the songs of his more recent years but its amazing production. Well into a world music approach by this time in his career, Simon at times reminds me of Peter Gabriel with the bed of wild percussion he features on songs like "Obvious Child" from 1990's The Rhythm Of The Saints. Grupo Cultural Olodum's drums make this song truly magical, providing a tight selection of tribal beats. "The Cool, Cool River" from the same album employs more amazing percussion and "Spirit Voices" has a floating electric guitar, based on a traditional Ghanaian song arranged by guitar master Vincent Nguini. "Quality" comes from Simon's Broadway music The Capeman and collection of the same name. A spirited Doo-Wop tone dominates "That's Me" from 2006's Surprise, while the super spacey "Another Galaxy" features Brian Eno, Steve Gadd and Pino Palladino asSimon's stripped-down band.

"Father And Daughter," from The Wild Thornberrys soundtrack, features a killer bass from Abe Laboriel. On "Rewrite," Simon plays his acoustic like Leo Kottke. The collection ends with the fantastically sardonic "So Beautiful, So What," the title track from Simon's 2011 studio album. With liner notes by Tom Moon and songs we know Paul Simon picked out himself, Songwriter is a reflection of one of rock's most prolific and regarded composers and a real treat for anyone who's still crazy for Paul Simon after all of these years.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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