It's not unusual for artists to re-record a song or two from their past oeuvre. Actually, the history of music is replete with artists revisiting their past achievements. This goes all the way to the era of crooners, and one can see singers like Frank Sinatra
or Tony Bennett
offering different takes on same songs in different settings at different times. Even though this is a new era, the process of revisiting and re-creating past songs and even entire albums has been done by esteemed artists such as Kate Bush, Bruce Springsteen, Natalie Merchant and the Cowboy Junkies, who replicated the marvelous Trinity Sessions
(Analog Productions, 1988) in the same intimate setting it was first recorded. Singer Lucinda Williams released the album This Sweet Old World
(Elecktra, 1992). Another major artist who is joining these ranks of artists who have re-visitied their past songs is singer and songwriter Paul Simon.
Paul Simon is a master songwriter whose albums are truly a songwriting masterclassesone would rarely find a misfire in his oeuvre. Most artists consider themselves lucky if they have one or two masterpieces during their entire career. Simon boasts a deep archive of quality songs and has produced a string of masterpieces that still awe and delight.
At the bookend of his career as a performing artist, with the Homeward Bound The Farewell Tour
coming to a close in the autumn of 2018, and with Simon calling it quits to touring, he decided to re-record some songs from various albums from the past that he felt had been overlooked, in order to give them a second chance. In the Blue Light
is a deep re-examination of Simon's solo career and it features 10 relatively unknown gems that were some of his personal favorites. The result is an album full of beautiful songs that is worthy of standing as its own entry in Simon's discography.
For this record, he assembled a stellar cast of musicians coming from different genres, predominantly from jazz and classical, in order to breathe new life into these songs. In the Blue Light
is a major reinvention of obscure and sometimes time-bound material. As a result, this collection is diverse and varied, but it is astonishing how cohesive this set is. The overall effect is both ephemeral and powerful. This record should be seen as new work, because most of these songs are very different from their relationships to the earlier versions in tone and scale, arrangements and lyrics, and have a clearer clarity of purpose. The songs unfold in a beautiful manner, shapeshifting from loud to quiet, from gentle and vulnerable to dynamic and playful, and back again.
The album kicks off dynamically with the bluesy "One Man's Ceiling is Another Man's Floor," originally from There Goes Rhymin' Simon
(Columbia Records, 1973). It soon sets into a quiet mode with the jazzy "Love," where guitarist Bill Frisell
adds his distinct surf lines. Collaborating with different arrangers, Simon crafts a series of dramatic ballads like "Darling Lorraine," "Rene and the Georgette Magritte" and "The Teacher." The sheer beauty of these arrangements, in combination with a tasteful, organic aesthetic and masterfully-crafted ambiance prevents things from drifting into a predictable mode. Simon expresses himself on these songs emotionally and honestly, without resorting to over dramatization in order to get a meaning across. On the playful stomp "Pigs, Sheep, and Wolves," that was arranged by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis
, he plays and sings with a vigor that shows no sign of flagging. The album closes with the gentle ballad "Questions for Angels." The music is simply beautiful and the vibe is mellow.
Simon's songs thrive in new presentations. Their meanings have shifted and grown, and obviously, he has learned a lot about these songs in the interim. This album is not so much a progression as much as it is a deepening. Also, In the Blue Light
provides a unique opportunity to do an A/B comparison between a late-career artist and his younger self. Which one the listeners would prefer depends on whether they favor a more assured artist working within his strengths or a young artist delighting in the creation of these beautiful songs.
Disc: 1: One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor; Love; Can't Run But; How the Heart Approaches What
It Yearns; Pigs, Sheep and Wolves. Disc: 2: René and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War;
The Teacher; Darling Lorraine; Some Folks' Lives Roll Easy; Questions for the Angels.
Paul Simon: Vocal, Acoustic Guitar, Percussion, Harmonium; Bill Frisell: Electric Guitar; Steve Gadd:
Drums; Renaud Garcia-Fons: Bass; Joel Wenhardt: Piano; Nate Smith: Drums; Jim Oblon: Guitar; John
Patitucci: Bass; Edie Brickell: Finger Snaps; CJ Camerieri: Trumpet; Andy Snitzer: Saxophone; Sullivan
Fortner: Piano; Wynton Marsalis: Trumpet; Marcus Printup: Trumpet; Dan Block: Clarinet; Walter
Blanding: Saxophone; Wycliffe Gordon: Tuba; Chris Crenshaw: Trombone; Marion Felder: Drums;
Herlin Riley: Tambourine; Odair Assad: Guitar; Sérgio Assad: Guitar; Walter Blanding: Saxophone;
Jamey Haddad: Percussion; Vincent Nguini: Electric Guitar; Mark Stewart: Acoustic Guitar; Sullivan
Fortner: Piano, Celeste; Jack DeJohnette: Drums; Joe Lovano: Saxophone.