Paul Simon is an artist crammed with superb paradoxes. He’s the secular Jew who has made a few of the best items of Christian pop music; the non-believer whose lyrics are obsessive about religion; the all-American boy who has immersed himself within the music of Jamaica, South Africa, Brazil and Olde England; the people singer who makes soul music with the world’s high jazz musicians; the choir-boy tenor who was rapping, conversationally, lengthy earlier than hip-hop. He’s maybe essentially the most advanced and fascinating determine on that shortlist of America’s best dwelling songwriters – alongside Bob, Stevie, Carole, Brian, Bruce, Smokey, Dolly and the remaining. You wouldn’t see Dylan deciding to write down a chunk of Schoenberg-inspired 12-tone serialism as an instructional train – utilizing each observe in a chromatic scale – and ending up with a limpid, soulful waltz like “Nonetheless Loopy After All These Years”. It’s unlikely that Dolly Parton would have jammed with township musicians from Soweto and been impressed to sing about Elvis Presley’s dwelling in Memphis; a sixtysomething Brian Wilson wouldn’t have written a salsa musical a few Puerto Rican assassin, a seventy-something Springsteen is unlikely to make an album on Harry Partch’s microtonal devices.
Simon’s newest album continues that exploratory spirit. Seven Psalms is a cycle of seven songs offered as a single 33-minute monitor. The concept apparently got here to him in a dream and, after a yr of steadily waking within the lifeless of the night time to scribble down lyrical concepts, it was accomplished precisely a yr later, on the twenty fifth anniversary of his father’s loss of life.
Simon is now 81, and Seven Psalms can actually be seen because the summation of a profession that has lasted greater than 66 years. It attracts collectively a number of recurring themes in his lyrics: non secular imagery, secular hymns, reflections on loss of life, lyrics that learn like quizzical brief tales. The album begins with “The Lord”, a baroque-inflected two-chord piece that’s repeated, with rising urgency, a number of instances all through the album. It’s a hymn that begins by attributing all magnificence on this planet to a cosmic creator. “The Lord is a virgin forest, the Lord is a forest ranger”, he sings. “A meal for the poorest, a welcome door to the stranger”. Then immediately, the temper shifts, the florid guitar turns into extra strident and, as a substitute of crediting this power of nature with miracle and marvel, Simon shifts from New Testomony to Outdated and blames God for the world’s evils – from illness to battle to international warming. “The Covid virus is the Lord/The Lord is the ocean rising/The Lord is a horrible swift sword”.
The track references numerous moments in Simon’s profession. The medieval-sounding guitar riff is paying homage to the “Anji” flourish that Davy Graham taught him 60 years in the past; the liturgical air remembers each the primary Simon & Garfunkel album and the newer sardonic religious quest of So Lovely Or So What. When Simon sings, “The Lord is a face within the environment/The trail I slip and I slide on”, it’s clearly a nod to “Slip Slidin’ Away” and that track’s cheerful meditation on the inevitability of loss of life.
The temper lightens slightly on the ethereal “Love Is Like A Braid”, a major-key track the place the lyrics of heaven and judgment are intoned arrhythmically, like an epic poem. By the point we attain the jokey, ragtime-inflected “My Skilled Opinion”, we are able to hear Simon virtually beating himself up for the fruitless soul-searching of the earlier songs. “I’m gonna carry my grievances right down to the shore, wash them away within the tumbling tide”, he coos. As one other nod to the previous, we are able to hear him enjoying the identical percussive bass harmonica sound that all of us keep in mind from “The Boxer”.
“Your Forgiveness” is essentially the most formidable track right here; an episodic, flamenco-tinged piece, with baroque flutes that resemble the Andean pipes on “El Condor Pasa” and a harmonium drone from 1972’s “Papa Hobo”. As he ponders sin and forgiveness, the association will get extra advanced – there’s a baroque string quintet, that includes the theorbo, chalumeau and viol de gamba, in addition to a subtly deployed arsenal of rhythmic devices – temple bowls, gongs, body drums, South Indian ektars and bass harmonicas.
“Path Of Volcanoes” is essentially the most rhythmic monitor on the album, a single-chord drone primarily based round some delicate West African percussion and a easy descending guitar riff, with lyrics that appear to be about immigration and asylum (“these outdated roads are a path of volcanoes/Exploding with refugees”). It’s additionally the primary look of Simon’s spouse Edie Brickell, whose glowing lead traces and playful harmonies are a welcome shard of sunshine among the many melancholy. She returns on the ultimate monitor, “Wait”, the place Simon’s narrator appears to be chaotically getting ready for loss of life (“Wait, I’m not prepared/I’m packing my gear”). But there’s a way of resigned pleasure, as Simon strikes into the pulsating 6/8 time signature he loves a lot. “I would like you right here by my aspect/My lovely thriller information”, he sighs, earlier than Brickell joins him on the ultimate verse. “Heaven is gorgeous”, she sings. “It’s virtually like dwelling”. It will be a powerful strategy to finish a powerful profession, however Simon in all probability has but extra concepts in him.