Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Sifting Through The Paul Simon Story

There was a lot of action in the Paul Simon world in 2011. In and of itself, that statement might not automatically signify much, since Simon’s album releases tend to be few and far between, and he’s generally more inclined to labor lovingly over his work than to flood the marketplace in a flurry of activity. Nevertheless, the past year has seen a steady flow of Simon-centered news regarding projects brand new, archival and curatorial. It all began with a bang back in April, when Simon unleashed his latest batch of songs, So Beautiful Or So What, his first new album in five years. These days, no one expects Simon’s albums”or anyone else’s, for that matter to”be doing Graceland-like business, so it was no huge shock when the album’s aesthetic excellence wasn’t quite matched by its (nonetheless respectable) sales figures. The important thing was that we had Paul Simon back in our collective bosom; here he was playing the snaky, sardonic “Rewrite” on late-night TV, there he was taking his band out on the road to greet audiences with Simon songs old and new. All along, it was lost on few pundits that the quintessential boomer troubadour, who mused “How terribly strange to be 70” back in 1968 would be achieving septuagenarian status this very October.

Whether the impetus was the big birthday, the new album or simply a certain shift in the psycho-sonic continuum, the folks at Sony decided that no one would leave 2011without the opportunity to immerse themselves in Simon’s solo catalog, kicking off an ambitious reissue campaign of deluxe re-releases encompassing everything from Simon’s self-titled 1972 album through 1990’s Brazilian-flavored Rhythm of the Saints. To top it all off, there’s also the Songwriter anthology, a double-CD affair whose first disc is occupied mostly by hits and signature songs, but whose second half focuses on the less-traveled pathways in the Simon catalog, concentrating on tunes that are mostly known only to hardcore Simon mavens.