Saturday, June 9, 2012

CD/DVD Review: Paul Simon “Graceland” 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition


Graceland: 25th Anniversary Edition

What can I write about Paul Simon. Partnering with Art Garfunkel, first in the late ‘50s as Tom and Jerry, they had a minor hit wit “Hey School Girl” the recording sold 100,000 copies hitting #49 on the Billboard charts. Greatly influenced by the Everly Brother which the song bares witness to. unable to follow up the minor success of “Hey School Girl”, the duo broke up and attended separate colleges. The duo eventually found some success performing live in the Greenwich Village folk scene. During this period, Simon had been penning folk songs, including "Sparrow", "Bleecker Street", and "He Was My Brother". the later was written for a childhood friend of the duos (who had met in grammar school), Andrew Goodman, who was one of three civil rights workers murdered in Neshoba County, Mississippi, on June 21, 1964.

These three efforts were among five original songs by Simon included on their first album for Columbia Records, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., which initially flopped upon its release on October 19, 1964. With the flop of the album, the duo broke up again and Simon moved to the United Kingdom, where he recorded his first solo album, The Paul Simon Songbook in 1965. This album is kind of famous, and if you could get your hand on a copy, you pay a mint. Simon actually sued the record company to stop any future releases of it, stating that it was not "not representative of the performer's style." I managed to get my hands on a copy, while in the U.K. in the ‘70s, on vinyl of course, and sadly lost it years later. the album was in the vein of many folk albums from the early ‘60s, solo acoustic guitar, miced and recorded in a “live” feeling, very much like the early Bob Dylan albums, minus the harp.

In the summer of ‘65, while Simon was still in England,Florida radio stations started getting requests for songs from Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., particularly "The Sound of Silence". Next thing you know, the song was being requested on Boston stations. Taking advantage of this late success, the duo's U.S. producer, Tom Wilson, inspired by the Byrds' hugely popular electric versions of Bob Dylan songs, used Dylan's studio band to dub electric guitars, bass and drums onto the original "Sound of Silence" track, and released it as a single, backed with "We've Got a Groovy Thing Goin'”The dubbing turned folk into folk rock, the debut of a new genre for the Top 40, much to Simon's surprise.

“Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes”

Simon and Garfunkel were reborn as pop stars and went on to record some of the most iconic folk rock songs of the ‘60s; "I Am a Rock" ( #3 in the summer of 1966), "Leaves That Are Green", "April Come She Will", "A Most Peculiar Man", and "Kathy's Song", "Homeward Bound" ( U.S. #5), "A Hazy Shade of Winter" (1966), "Mrs. Robinson" (1968), "Bridge over Troubled Water" (1969), "The Boxer" (1969), and "Cecilia" (1969) . Their sometimes rocky relationship led to their last album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, being delayed several times due to artistic disagreements. Eventually, in 1970 it proved to be their most successful album, peaking at number one around the world and being certified Platinum 8 times. Nevertheless, the duo parted ways only reuniting decades later on special occasions.

Simon began a successful solo career, recording three highly acclaimed albums over the next five years. then his career seemed to ebb, and the reception to the album, Hearts and Bones, seemed to mark the end of his popular success. Then in 1986, he recorded Graceland. It was his seventh studio album since the 1970 breakup. The album hit number 1 in the U.K. album charts and number 3 in the U.S. then won the 1986 Grammy Award for Album of the Year, while the title song won the 1987 Grammy for Record of the Year. But, beyond the commercial success, the album stands as perhaps the first recording to introduce ‘world music' to the pop charts and the ears of fans the world over. Simon, and members of the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed on “Saturday Night Live” in what turned out to be a landmark moment in broadcast history and in SNL history. The album generated three chart topping singles, including “You Can call Me Al” with its iconic video for the MTV crowd including Chevy Chase. the album kept Paul Simon and Graceland on tour for five years. to this day it continues to be a major force and a source of inspiration for musicians and fans alike.

“You Can Call Me Al”

but, initially, the album riled up politicians the world over. Much of the album was recorded in South Africa, and it features many South African musicians and groups. Simon faced accusations that he had broken the cultural boycott imposed by the rest of the world against the apartheid regime in South Africa.  Although supported by the United Nations Anti-Apartheid Committee, as the album showcased the talents of the black South African musicians while offering no support to the South African government, even the ANC protested the collaboration as a break in the cultural boycott. But, what the politicians the world over could not achieve through policy, Simon did through music. The worldwide success of the album introduced some of the musicians, especially the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, to global audiences of their own. Simon included American 'roots' influences with tracks featuring Zydeco and Tex-Mex musicians. The Everly Brothers sing harmony on the title track. Linda Ronstadt appears on the track "Under African Skies", the second verse of which Simon wrote based on her childhood experiences.

This package, which is amazing to say the least – it comes in many pieces, available separately, but the Deluxe Box Set comes with 2CDs, 2DVDs, a Deluxe 80 Page Book chronicling everything you could want to know about the album, a Replica Lyric Pad and a Poster – includes the Documentary, “Under The African Sky’s” , which is receiving many big screen showings as well as Prime Time TV showings throughout the spring and early summer. The second DVD is the classic ‘87 concert film of the same title for the first time ever on DVD. The 2 CD set includes the remastered original Graceland plus the unissued Story Of Graceland narrated by Simon and unreleased demos of the songs, never heard before.

“The Story Of Graceland”

The Box Set is truly a must have in itself. It is the size of a medium size phone book, and weighs more than a laptop computer. I almost don’t want to play it, just looking at it is nearly enough and I can only thank the folks at Legacy Records and Sony Music for providing me with the review copies. I hadn’t listen to my original copy in ages, and so after putting on the CDs to put me in prospection, I was delighted at the quality. I had to compare them and the remastering is excellent and really makes the music come alive. There are videos included for “You Can Call me Al”, “Boy In The Bubble”, “Diamonds on the Soles Of Her Shoes” and a live version of the same that made me smile and somehow brought the meaning of the songs into focus.

Then I watched the DVDs, starting with Under The African Skis – Graceland Journey, which, as the title suggests, traces the history and evolution of the album in its cultural impact and the political climate that existed at the time. the film follows Simon as he goes back to South Africa, and remembers the people, places and music that inspired him to create the album. More than anything, I think the movie drives home the profound impact and importance of art on a society.The running time for this movie is 2 hours and 23 minutes.

“Under The African Skies”

The second DVD is The African Concert, recorded at Rufaro Stadium in Zimbabwe in 1987. It is a delight, the electricity felt in that stadium 25 years ago as western music mingled with African music and told the world that there is art in all cultures and at the end of the day, we can all find joy in that. That its not all about  charts and sales and suits on Madison Ave. but its about people, all people celebrating and sharing our world and our art. The musicians on stage for the concert included Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. this DVD lasts for 90 minutes.

All  in all, this is a marvelous collection that gives you somewhere near 4 hours of entertainment, cultural and artistic explorations and ground breaking music that is still impacting the world today. It was a historical achievement in so many ways 25 years ago and here is celebrated and treated that way for the listener to own.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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