Saturday, November 5, 2011

Michael Fremer Album Review

So Beautiful or So What
(recent release)

Paul Simon

Hear Music 180g LP+ 96/24 FLAC download

Produced by: Phil Ramone and Paul Simon

Engineered by: Andy Smith

Mixed by: Phil Ramone

Mastered by: Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound



Re-Charged Simon Scores
by Michael Fremer
September 01, 2011

After a series of albums that tried too hard to advance the cause and so seemed self-consciously so, Paul Simon has produced his best since Graceland. The album title explains how he's managed. It celebrates the significant but demolishes it at the same time.

Again he's called on world musical roots and other branches to energize his compositions, but as in Graceland, the cores are sufficiently strong to sustain the weights of the add-on accouterments.

For instance on "Dazzling Blue" he adds a tabla and some rhythmic vocalizing you may have heard from Ravi Shankar but these are merely accents to a highly melodic, harmony drenched construction that's as attractive as anything found on Graceland or Rhythm of the Saints.

The opener, "Getting Ready For Christmas Day" takes its cue from a recorded sermon on Okeh records by Reverend J.M. Gates. It's a song about mortality that casts life in stark ephemeral terms using the run up to Christmas sung by Simon with the dark inevitable sermon from Gates.

"Rewrite" is about turning a life around using a script metaphor. "Love and Hard Times," perhaps the album's highlight, is among Simon's most intense and personal love songs that begins with a visit from God and Jesus who decide to not stay long, leaving "love and hard times." Whereas on "Hearts and Bones" he plays the observer of his own love affair (then with Carrie Fisher), on this song he makes it far more personal.

Simon's melodic gift isn't what it one was—or he's purposely chosen a more linear tack—though there are some glints of it, but that's more than made up for by his poetic gifts, which have never been more subtle and sublime.

The parts are good enough without them adding up to more than the whole, but they consistently manage that and combined with the music, which does the same, it produces a provocative, powerful package filled with beauty, wonder and mystery that has the weight and staying power of his greatest albums.

The sonics are strictly high resolution Pro-Tools so don't expect Roy Halee-like warmth and beauty, but this is a different time and the recording quality is very good. Dynamics are preserved, the stage is reasonably spacious and very well organized. The edginess is modern and kept to a minimum, but the textures are skeletal as are the images, which are lit with sonic neon.

Simon's voice is hollowed out and has a bit of ice attached and the sibilants can be etchy. You've heard much better, but trust me, you've heard a lot worse and with Phil Ramone mixing, it's put together with the same subtlety as the musical and poetic compositions.

As an extra bonus, you get a card for a 96/24 FLAC download instead of the usual MP3 dreck. Or you can buy the 96/24 files on HDtracks.

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material.  Stop by for more reviews and features.

©2011 & Michael Fremer - - All rights reserved

Reprinted by Permission

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