Saturday, May 14, 2016
PAUL SIMON GOES SOLO
Following a very successful run of LPs with his partner, Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon entered the 1970s as a solo act. His first effort in this capacity was par excellence.
"No, I would not give you false hope, on this strange and mournful day."
Stylistically, the loping, reggae inflected "Mother and Child Reunion" opens this phenomenal set with a knuckleball. Coming on like an old spiritual, without alluding to any religious theme, there is something deeply familiar in the groove. The atmosphere belongs to Kingston while the author voices the lyric in a very staid manner.
Know where the words came from on that? You never would have guessed. I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called "Mother and Child Reunion." It's chicken and eggs. And I said, 'Oh, I love that title. I gotta use that one.' I fell into Los Incas, I loved it. It's got nothing to do with our music, but I liked it anyway. The Jamaican thing, there's nobody getting into a Jamaican thing. Jamaicans have a lot of good music, an awful lot.
Cissy Houston leads the backup singers with soulful precision.
Los Incas provides the solo breaks in the acoustic-dominated tale of "Duncan", similar to the Andean touches that they had added to "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)." World Music was not in the purview of the majority of pop artists of the period, though it works well here. Brian Jones would have been proud. There are lines that are quintessentially Simon, intoned in a way that almost seems like he's passing on a secret.
Displaying an incredible economy with words, that concision is used to great effect in "Everything Put Together Falls Apart". Clocking in just shy of two minutes, the delicacy of the playing coupled with a lilting melody belies the darker message of the downside to taking pills. This is a tune to play for songwriters that have only a nodding acquaintance with subtlety. Arrangements are uncluttered, with a deliberate attempt to shun the big production job that colored Bridge Over Troubled Water. Very little augmentation is present and the focus is, rightfully, placed on the songs themselves.
"Run That Body Down" is my personal favorite, standing out from the pack. This song builds beautifully, supported by Hal Blaine's brushed groove and airy vibes, virtually lifting off when Jerry Hahn takes his tasteful, wah-wahed solo. Hinting at domestic troubles, he name checks himself and (then) wife Peggy, though any pointed references are gracefully sidestepped, leaving the listener to speculate as to what meaning is intended.
Butchered by countless guitar players during late night sing-a-longs, "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard" is one that everyone knows, sounding like it is being delivered with a wink.
What was it that mama saw?
Something sexual is what I imagine, but when I say 'something', I never bothered to figure out what it was. Didn't make any difference to me. First of all, I think it's funny to sing--"Me and Julio." It's very funny to me. And when I started to sing 'Me and Julio,' I started to laugh. I like the line about the radical priest. I think that's funny to have in a song.
Simon was ahead of the curve by employing exotic instrumental flavoring (inspired work by percussionist Airto Moreira) that manages to enhance the scattershot wordplay of this memorable song.
It's carbon and monoxide, the ole Detroit perfume, that hangs on the highways in the morning and it lays you down by noon...
Delicate chord progression, harmonium pad and jaunty bass harmonica (reminicient of "The Boxer") move "Papa Hobo" along. Nice vocal texture. Close-up to the mic, with no reverb. Stomping bass drum pushing violent acoustic slide work announces the arrival of "Paranoia Blues". "Whose side are you on?" asks the author as he moves from people talking behind his back to getting the shakedown by the customs man "in that little room" to someone stealing his chow fong.
Paranoia is just a heightened state of awareness.
Closing this flawless record is another sketch of a troubled relationship.
"Congratulations, seems like you done it again. I ain't had such misery, since I don't know when."
Ending with the question, "Can't a man and a woman live together in peace?" some beautiful electric piano by Larry Knechtel provides the soft landing. Meticulous in every way, I don't think that he has ever made a better record. Bigger commercial splashes would follow, though artistically, it was all done best here.
I viewed Simon and Garfunkel as basically a three-way partnership. Each person had a relatively equal say. So in other words, if Roy (engineer Roy Halee) and Artie said, Let's do a long ending on "The Boxer'", I said, two out of three, and did it their way. I didn't say, Hey that's my song, It wasn't until my own album that I ever started to think to myself, What do I really like?" On my own album, I learned every aspect of it has to be your own judgment. You have to say, wait a minute, is that the right tempo? Is that the right take? It's your decision. Nobody else can do it.
Left to his own devices, he would not disappoint.