Paul Simon: In the Blue Light review – wistful new treatments of old gems

(Legacy)

As he prepares to mark his retirement from touring with a show in his native Queens, New York, later this month, 76-year-old Paul Simon’s 14th solo album revisits 10 songs from his vast catalogue that he felt were “almost right, or overlooked”, and gives them a treatment he compares to “a new coat of paint on the walls of an old family home”. Other artists such as Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel have tried this approach, and Simon certainly brings his best to it. The stellar band includes jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and guitarist Bill Frissell. Chamber ensemble yMusic’s inventive treatments of Can’t Run But (from The Rhythm of the Saints album) and the sublime René and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War (originally on Hearts and Bones) are familiar from Simon’s current Homeward Bound tour. The former song has been updated, so that Simon now hears a DJ whose “sub bass feels like an earthquake”.

There are four selections from the 2000 album You’re the One, which Simon presumably feels is his most overlooked. There are no hits and nothing from Graceland. Generally, sparser arrangements allow more space for Simon’s dazzling imagery and oblique but relevant ruminations on subjects including immigration (René and Georgette …; The Teacher), domestic violence (a bluesier One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor) and the state of humanity and the planet (Questions for the Angels).

The Orwellian satire Pigs, Sheep and Wolves is now jazzier. Marsalis’s woozy sax in How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns wonderfully recreates the atmosphere of the “downtown [formerly ‘local’] bar and grill”. There is often a reflective, wistful feel, but Simon’s best reworkings benefit from his age and increased experience. The 1975 song Some Folks’ Lives Roll Easy is much more poignant, as he brings his septuagenarian voice to the words: “Here I am, Lord, I’m knocking on your place of business, but I have no business here.” Simon doesn’t sound at peace with the post-crash, Trump-era world at all, and the exquisite new arrangement of Love emphasises lines such as: “When evil walks the planet, love is crushed like clay.” But perhaps he can now be content with an extraordinary canon.

Contributor

Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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