[25 November 2013]
Coinciding with the release of Paul Simon: The Complete Albums Collection, Over the Bridge of Time: A Paul Simon Retrospective is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the novice Simon appreciator needs a place to start appreciating. On the other, there’s no way to sum up such a dynamic career on one disc. Sony Legacy tries to pull off this feat, but let’s face it. Big labels look at money over art. Sales over significance. Chart positions and revenue have a lot to do with the early-career song choices here, which leaves one with the uneasy feeling that something’s missing. So much of what’s not here is majorly important… not only to the nostalgic, but to the admirer of all things beautiful and graceful. To all of us. This brings me back to my original point:
There’s no way to sum up such a dynamic career on one disc. Period.
Paul Simon is one of those artists. His album output throughout the past 50-plus years has always had this deli-tray quality about it. Each individual LP from Wednesday Morning, 3AM through So Beautiful or So What has ample variety to please many different tastes, provide many different insights, and display a rainbow of degrees of perfection. They’re all samplers from different times and places, and all are of the highest quality…more akin to high-brow hors d’oeuvres than celery stalks or pigs in a blanket. So, to pick one to two items from 12 different platters that are all perfect in their own right, and do so without alienating anyone is impossible. I don’t fault those responsible for track selection for poor choices. They did what they had to do. Thank goodness there’s only a handful of obligatory sales recognition songs here that shouldn’t be. So, the inclusion of “You Can Call Me Al” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” is expected, but at the loss of, say, “Something So Right” or “April, Come She Will”...which is unfortunate. If anything, the track layout deciders pose the argument for the purchase of the whole enchilada (The Complete Albums Collection), instead of this paltry appetizer.
Now that I’ve made my argument against, let me make my argument for. Simon is a graceful observer, and his ability to translate his experience to all of us through song-craft is top-tier. There are really no wrong choices here. Starting this retrospective with “The Sounds of Silence” is obviously the right thing to do, and there are mostly key moments in this illustrious career up for review. I encourage everyone who hasn’t experienced “America”, “Hearts and Bones”, “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”, and the rest of the lot to do so immediately. Posthaste. There’s worthy argument for Simon being the consummate American song-smith, even over Dylan. So, for a newbie to the Simon experience (with and without Garfunkel), buying this one-disc “overview” is required syllabus curriculum. When I say newbie, I mean someone who has never heard any of these songs. Ever. Even if you’ve quietly admired “Bridge Over Troubled Water” only from a couple of oldies-radio spins here and there, you’re qualified and for a more in-depth perusal. Do yourself a favor. If you’ve got the bread, the big box set will be better worth your time.