Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What
Style: Classic singer-songwriter folk/rock; compare to Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, Neil Diamond
Top Tracks: "Getting Ready for Christmas Day," "Dazzling Blue," "So Beautiful or So What"
Listeners who appreciate Paul Simon as a talented poet, storyteller, guitarist, and orchestrator will be thrilled with his latest release. A glimpse at the instrumentation alone impresses; the album is full of international influences, including an Indian ensemble, angklung, bansuri flute, and a western African harp. Its heavy percussive elements, both vocally and instrumentally, also add to the "world music" feel. Once again, Simon strikes a perfect balance between new musical ideas and the funky folk we've come to expect.
Beyond the superb music, the stories Simon weaves throughout are of the utmost importance. At 69, he's brimming with the kind of wisdom that comes only through the decades, at every moment here humility, thankfulness, and, above all, love. "Love and Blessings" bespeaks the power of those two words to slake the thirst of parched hearts. Several tracks—including "Dazzling Blue" and "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light"—bask in the beauty and mystery of creation. "Let the scientists complain," he says of the lack of rain that brings the beauty of "golden days and amber sunsets." Simon is clearly content with life's perplexities, humble in the face of what is bigger than himself.
In the liner notes, Elvis Costello writes, "It seems no accident that three of the song titles contain the word 'love' and most of the others consider it in its many manifestations." But is that love human, divine, or both? Instead of answering such questions, Simon asks some of his own. For example, does "Love and Hard Times" purposefully remind believers that the times we feel abandoned by God are ironically what bring us together in community and inspire generosity, gratefulness, and love? Even "The Afterlife," which initially appears to poke fun at the notion of heaven, hints that true clarity will not come in a moment but will be the result of a process.
The title track appears comes last, and for good reason. "So Beautiful or So What" serves as a concluding statement, recalling James 4:14 with the lyrics, "I'm just a raindrop in a bucket / A coin dropped in a slot … / You know life is what you make of it / So beautiful or so what."
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