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Archive for the ‘CD reviews – songwriter’ Category

CD review/ Melody Road – Neil Diamond

melody road

Melody Road/ Neil Diamond

Genre: Singer-songwriter

Labels: Universal Music

Price: Rs 395

Rating: ****

NEIL Diamond just has to be one of the best singers ever. His distinct vocal timbre, soaring range and ability to write great songs give him a special advantage. Having been prolific since the mid-1960s, he continues to churn out some incredible stuff today at the age of 73.

Tune in to his latest album ‘Melody Road’, and it’s amply clear Diamond hasn’t lost an iota of his charm. His songs are simple yet powerful, and his voice still has the magic we heard on earlier anthems like ‘Play me’, ‘Crackling Rosie’, ‘Beautiful noise’ , ‘Sweet Caroline’, ‘Soolaimon’, ‘Shilo’, ‘Kentucky woman’ and ‘Song sung blue’.

Setting this 12-track set into motion is the typically-Diamond title song, where he begins, “Melody road I’m on with you, all the way to the end, I know every song you lead me to is gonna be my friend.” On ‘First time’, he sounds like he’s about to slip into ‘Cracklin Rosie’.

These songs just build the mood, but on the third number ‘Seongah and Jimmy’, Diamond springs a complete surprise. A song about the love between a Korean girl and American boy, inspired by his brother-in-law, this is very unlike Diamond, and has a flute-driven theatrical ambience.

The other tunes brim with romance and emotion too. On the waltzy ballad ‘Something blue’, he sings, “I came with a little bit of sorrow, was maybe a bit too sad; But one day rolled into tomorrow, and you gave me the best you had; That’s how we started together, and how together we’re gonna stay.”

Then, on ‘Nothing but a heartache’, he easily gets into the higher octave to deliver the words, “You’re the sum of all my heartbeats, you’re the only truth my heart needs; Showed me how to make the journey. I can’t let you walk away; No, not today; ‘Cause I’ve already slept with heartache, time to chase the night away; Just the two of us together, does forever sound okay?; Say yes it does, say yes it does.”

The nostalgia-filled ‘In better days’, the haunting ‘(OOO) Do I wanna be yours’ and the uptempo, Billy Joel-ish ‘Alone at the ball’ grow on repeated hearing, whereas ‘Sunny disposition’ and ‘The art of love’ talk of romantic liaisons. The optimistic ‘Marry me’ is filled with celebratory trumpets, as Diamond sings, “Marriage’s not an easy thing, but look at all the joy it brings.”

Backed by charming acoustic guitars and moody string sections, the songs are tightly composed and neatly arranged. If you thought Diamond’s later albums ’12 Songs’ and ‘Home Before Dark’ were enough proof that he is showing no signs of slowing down, ‘Melody Road’ further substantiates that feeling. Like all his previous work, it’s his voice that works wonders.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding


CD review/ Popular Problems — Leonard Cohen


Popular Problems/ Leonard Cohen

Genre: Singer-songwriter

Label: Sony Music

Rating: *****

QUITE clearly, Leonard Cohen defies the concept of growing old. The Canadian singer-songwriter turned 80 on September 21, and at an age when many of his contemporaries would have lost much of their compositional charm, he has produced one of the most remarkable albums of his career. His 13th release ‘Popular Problems’ is a worthy successor to his 2012 effort ‘Old Ideas’, and it’s another of those collections that keeps sounding better on repeated hearing.

‘Popular Problems’ has nine songs, and at less than 36 minutes, is rather short too. None of the tunes crosses the five-minute mark, and yet, they’re filled with so much depth that they seem much longer. Most important, Cohen’s voice seems to get deeper and even more haunting, with that chronic bronchitis growl that makes him so inimitable.

Like in most of his earlier work, the songs talk of love, sex, religion, politics, war, despair and depression, using some outstanding imagery. While one number ‘A Street’ has been co-written by Anjani Thomas, seven have been penned in partnership with Patrick Leonard. ‘Born In Chains’, which has been doing the live circuit for four years, is Cohen’s only exclusive piece of songwriting.

A highlight of the songs is the minimal use of orchestrations, with soft drum brushes, soothing violins, graceful horns and just-about-adequate organs playing pleasantly in the backdrop. The use of female choruses is a regular feature, as the back-up singers repeat the main lines either in isolation or at cross-harmony with Cohen’s voice. If one has to criticise something about this album, it has to do with the ordinariness of its cover artwork. The rest falls perfectly in place.

The singer is in form from the opening number ‘Slow’, singing “I’m slowing down the tune, I’ve never liked it fast, You wanna get there soon, I wanna get there last” in his trademark style. The second piece ‘Almost Like The Blues’ is a dark, anti-war lament, with the lines “There’s torture and there’s killing, And there’s all my bad reviews, The war, the children missing, Lord, it’s almost like the blues.”

On initial hearing, ‘Samson In New Orleans’ may sound like one of the album’s weaker spots, but that’s because it’s too trademark Cohen in tune and structure. Over a few hearings, this song about the Katrina aftermath impresses with its melancholic violin stretch and infectious back-up vocals. With its charming synthesiser line, ‘A Street’ impresses with the words “I cried for you this morning, And I’ll cry for you again, But I’m not in charge of sorrow, So please don’t ask me when.”

What’s amazing is the way the style of the songs changes as the album progresses. The piano-backed ‘Did I Ever Love You?’ is a hymn-like tune questioning the depth of a relationship, whereas ‘My Oh My” just has the right tinge of the blues, with Cohen altering the way he sings the main words remarkably. The other war-related song ‘Nevermind’ is one of the album’s strongest parts, as he sings, “I had to leave my life behind, I dug some graves you’ll never find, The story’s told with facts and lies, I have a name but never mind.” A funk blues backdrop and Arabic vocals give this piece its own distinctness.

On ‘Born in Chains’, Cohen gets into a gospel flavor, singing “I was born in chains but I was taken out of Egypt, I was bound to a burden, but the burden it was raised, Oh Lord I can no longer keep this secret, Blessed is the name, the name be praised.” With its charming violins and pleasant acoustic guitar, the concluding track ‘You Got Me Singing’ traverses country territory. Referring to his famous tune ‘Hallelujah’, Cohen sings, “You got me singing, Singing the Hallelujah hymn.”

Though Cohen has written some pathbreaking songs in his career, he hasn’t been too prolific for most part, sometimes giving gaps or seven or nine years between albums. But the heartening thing is that he’s come out with two great albums in the space of two years and a half. Both ‘Old Ideas’, reviewed earlier in this blog on April 30 2012, and ‘Popular Problems’ complement each other. Like wine, Cohen’s charm is increasing with age.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

CD review/ The Last Ship — Sting

sting last ship

The Last Ship/ Sting

Genre: Singer-songwriter

Universal Music/ Rs 495 (imports)

Rating: ****

AFTER a memorable stint with the Police, Gordon Sumner aka Sting has had a somewhat strange solo career. Between 1985 and 1993, he released a string of outstanding albums, namely ‘The Dream of the Blue Turtles’, ‘Nothing Like the Sun’, ‘The Soul Cages’ and ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’.

Sadly, much of his later effort has been predictable. Though the albums ‘Mercury Falling’, ‘Brand New Day’ and ‘Sacred Love’ had their highs and their hit songs, they didn’t match the earlier masterpieces in terms of both consistency and freshness. In his 2010 collection ‘Symphonicities’, he played symphonically re-arranged versions of his older songs, with the assistance of the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. But barring a brilliant take on ‘Roxanne’, the effort fell flat.

Sting’s latest set ‘The Last Ship’ is being marketed as his first full-length album of original material in a decade, after ‘Sacred Love’. It is also inspired by Sting’s forthcoming play of the same name, scheduled to be released on Broadway next year.

Has Sting got over the shadow that has hung over him for quite some time? The first couple of hearings of ‘The Last Ship’ may make you feel he hasn’t, and an early reaction is that his vocal texture has lost a fraction of its spark. But give the album four or five listens, and the old magic begins to unfold slowly but steadily, like a ship that takes its own sweet time to move out of the harbour, but sails smoothly once in full flow.

Though old-time fans may argue that isn’t anywhere in the class of ‘The Soul Cages’ or ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’, the truth is that it is clearly his best effort over the past two decades. The sound is a blend of Celtic flavours, British folk, sea shanty and the trademark Sting style. Filled with fiddles, accordions, whistles and bagpipes, the tunes at times remind you of solo Mark Knopfler and even the ‘Les Miserables’ music. What’s most impressive, however, is the quality of the lyrics, with the songs being poetic and recitation-friendly.

Check him on the last lines of the opening title track, which go, “In the name of the Father, in the name of the son, And whatever the weave of this life that you’ve spun, On the earth or in heaven or under the sun, When the last ship sails.” He’s moulded his famous timbre, but the song hits you with its sheer punch.

Of the other songs, ‘Dead Man’s Boots’ sounds more from the Knopfler style book, and ‘August Winds’ is sung with a melancholy that makes it haunting. ‘So to Speak’ is a charming duet with British folk singer Becky Unthank, who comes in mid-way, and ‘Ballad of the Great Eastern’ has an old-fashioned charm, with its lilting Brit-folk interlude. ‘Practical Arrangement’ is wittily written song about a man wooing a woman on how they should end their respective solitude, and ‘What Have We Got’ is a peppy song with theatrical seaside shouts.

There are other beauties. With its moody guitars, ‘And Yet’ seems like it’s an extension of the earlier albums, with the lines, “This town has a strange magnetic pull, Like a homing signal in your skull, And you sail by the stars of the hemisphere, Wondering how in the hell did you end up here?”

‘Language of Birds’ has the outstanding words “And across that sea is an island, A paradise we are told, Where the toils of life are forgotten, And they call it the Island of Souls.” On this song, Sting also gets into nostalgic mode, with the lines, “It was him who was trapped in the soul cage, son.”

‘I Love Her But She Loves Someone Else’ is a lyrical masterpiece, with Sting singing “There are times when a man needs to brave his reflection, And face what he sees without fear, It takes a man to accept his mortality, Or be surprised by the presence of a tear.”

To be sure, this is the kind of album that’s likely to appeal more to the lyrical-minded than to those who focus on pure melody. Here too, it takes a while to get a hang of many songs, and it is advisable to keep a print-out of the lyrics handy. There are times when the compositions sound bland, only to be saved by the words.

Sting’s change in voice may spark some debate too. He’s sung in a pitch lower than what one is accustomed to hearing, and there are occasions when he’s gone in for a more countryside accent which sounds forced. His timbre is also showing the signs of strain that appear with age — he turned 62 on October 2.

These minor observations, however, don’t take away from the overall quality of the songs. As mentioned before, this is the kind of album that takes time to grow on you. But once it does, it simply seems like it’s the best thing Sting has done in years. Enjoy the ship ride.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

CD review/ Tempest – Bob Dylan

Tempest/ Bob Dylan

Genre: Singer-songwriter

Sony Music/ Rs 499

Rating: *****

THE times they are a-changin’, but Bob Dylan isn’t. At 71, having spent 50 glorious years in the recording business, the ace singer-songwriter still does regular concert tours, weaves words like a magician and churns out absolutely phenomenal albums.

When he first announced the title of his latest album, two stories did the rounds. One was that it was inspired by a similar-sounding play by William Shakespeare, and the other was that it would be his last recording effort. Blaaahhhhh, responded Dylan.

Whatever it is, there’s no denying that Dylan can easily be called the Shakespeare of songwriting. Yes, there are those who argue that his recent songs lack the sheer poetic brilliance and creative consistency of his 60s and 70s work, but he’s still crisp, prolific and highly-listenable, no doubt.

Dylan’s 35th studio album, ‘Tempest’ contains 10 songs and lasts a solid 68 minutes. Pretty long, for sure, with five numbers lasting over seven minutes. But it’s also clearly his best album in a decade, after 2001’s masterpiece ‘Love and Theft’.

Lyrically, ‘Tempest’ is one of his darkest and most vivid albums ever, filled with words and tales of gore, doom and uncertainty. Marvels like “You’ve got the same eyes that your mother does; If only you could prove who your father was,”  “Your father left you, your mother too; Even death has washed its hands of you” and “If love is a sin then beauty is a crime; All things are beautiful in their time” still overflow from that magical pen.

Most songs are sung in a narrative fashion, with Dylan actually telling lengthy stories or describing landmark events. His voice, never textbook-perfect, sounds even more raw, rugged and raspy, almost like a cross between a morning brush gargle, an attack of whooping cough and bluesman Howling Wolf’s whisky-spruced wail. But it suits these songs oh-so-perfectly, making them grander and more gorgeous, even in those flashing off-key moments.

Musically, ‘Tempest’ meanders between raw blues, quintessential folk-rock, earthy country and southern American boogie. Gone are the signature harmonica solos of yore. Instead, a talented back-up band that includes David Hidalgo of Los Lobos concentrates more on guitar, keyboards, bass, violin, banjo, accordion and mandolin.

While all songs are penned exclusively by Dylan, the opening track and video song ‘Duquesne Whistle’ has been co-written with Robert Hunter, who once graced Grateful Dead tunes and also worked on Dylan’s album’s ‘Down in the Groove’ and ‘Together Through Life’.

‘Duquesne Whistle’ begins with a melodic guitar-piano riff followed by a punchy stomp, before Dylan sings: “Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing, blowing like it’s gonna sweep my world away.” Catchy and infectious, it’s closest the album comes to Dylan’s 60s folk-rock-boogie sound, with typically-styled emphasis on the words ‘blowing’, ‘sky’, ‘alive’ and ‘head’.

The tempo slows down with the bittersweet ballad ‘Soon after midnight’, with Dylan singing “I’m searching for phrases, to sing your praises, I need to tell someone; It’s soon after midnight, and my day has just begun.” It’s a haunting melody, setting the mood for some heartbroken lines on the uptempo ‘Narrow Way’, where he sings “I can’t work up to you; You’re surely gonna have to work down to me someday.”

The nostalgic and moodily-orchestrated ‘Long and Wasted Years’ has some memorable lines. The song begins, “It’s been such a long long time, since we loved each other when our hearts were true,” and later goes on to, “I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes, there are secrets in them I can’t disguise; Come back baby, If I ever hurt your feelings, I apologise.” But the best is reserved for the song’s finale: “I think that when my back was turned, the whole world behind me burned, It’s been a while, since we walked down that long long isle; We cried on that on that cold and frosty morn, we cried because our souls were torn; So much for tears, so much for these long and wasted years.” Bravo!

‘Pay in Blood’ moves at a brisk pace, with smart guitarwork and lines like “The more I take, the more I give; The more I die, the more I live” and “I pay in blood, but not my own.” The country-folk charmer ‘Scarlet Town’ is beautifully orchestrated, with a smooth guitar passage smack in the centre.

‘Early Roman Kings’ has a blues stomp straight out of the Muddy Waters beauty ‘Mannish Boy’. Add to that a vibrant keyboard line, and classic words like “I can strip you of life, strip you of breath, ship you down to the house of death; One day you will ask for me, there’ll be no one else that you wanna see.”

The nine-minute ‘Tin Angel’ is a three-part story of adultery, murder and suicide Playing to a steady groove and a slapping bassline backdrop. It has the vicious lines “Get up, stand up, you greedy lipped wench, and cover your face to solve all the consequence; You are making my heart feel sick, put your clothes back on, double quick.” Shades of the unforgettable ‘Positively 4th Street’ here.

Which brings us to the two epics that conclude the album. Written as a folk-waltz, the 14-minute title track talks of the sinking of the Titanic. Beginning with, “The pale moon rose in its glory, out of the western town, she told a sad sad story, of a great ship that went down”, it even makes a reference of Leonardo di Caprio, star of the James Cameron film, on “Leo took his sketch book, he was often so inclined; He closed his eyes and painted the scenery in his mind.”

The album concludes with the awesome ‘Roll on, John’, a heartfelt dedication to John Lennon. The touching tribute talks of the Beatles legend’s days in Liverpool, his work with the band Quarrymen and the early concerts in Hamburg, makes references to the unforgettable lines “I heard the news today oh boy” and ‘Come together right now over me” and even takes a bit of inspiration from poet William Blake (“Tiger tiger burning bright”) and children’s bedtime prayers (“I pray the lord my soul to keep”).

Any flaws? Maybe one, in that some numbers like ‘Early Roman Kings’ ‘Tin Angel’ and the title song use the same instrumental themes and chord progressions repeatedly. But then, these songs narrate stories, and the initial monotony is drowned by the mastery of the words.

All in all, ‘Tempest’ is the perfect way to celebrate Dylan’s golden jubilee. Among the rock stars, only two others have been active for those many years – the Beatles’s Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones. But while both of them have been extra-busy on the live circuit, their studio recordings are nowhere near their past.  As for Dylan, the magic of Mr Tambourine Man is still blowing in the wind.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Classic


CD review/ Old Ideas – Leonard Cohen

Old Ideas/ Leonard Cohen

Genre: Singer-songwriter

Sony Music/ Import Rs 599

Rating: *****

AS a music journalist, one of my biggest regrets is that I couldn’t meet and interview Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, even after tracking him down on his 2001 visit to Mumbai, and speaking to him over the telephone.

On a tip-off, I had found that Cohen was in Mumbai to meet his spiritual guru Ramesh Balsekar, and was staying at the Shalimar hotel in Kemps Corner. On first attempt, I was lucky to be connected to his room. The famous voice answered. Goose flesh! However, he apologised and said he was on a personal visit and wasn’t keen on giving any interviews. When I persisted by saying I just wanted to collect his autograph, he said he was leaving in 15 minutes, and to try the next day. I could never connect with him after that. Sweat, disappointment!

Though I’ve personally followed the other great singer-songwriter Bob Dylan a bit more deeply, I’ve had my share of Cohen phases over the years. It began in 1987 or so, when I heard a compilation containing the songs ‘Suzanne’, ‘Sisters Of Mercy’, ‘So Long Marianne’, ‘Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’, ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ and ‘Bird On A Wire’. In fact, I had always associated ‘Suzanne’ with Neil Diamond, and was somewhat surprised to discover it was written by the then-new-to-me Cohen.

Somewhere down the line, I  got the tape of ‘Death Of A Ladies’ Man’, which has the songs ‘Iodine’, ‘Paper-thin Hotel’ and my all-time Cohen favourite ‘I Left A Woman Waiting’. Later, I randomly got exposed to classics like ‘Hallelujah’, ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’, ‘Our Lady Of Solitude’, ‘Tower Of Song’, ‘Waiting For The Miracle’ (used in the ‘Wonder Boys’ soundtrack) and ‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’, and it was only over the last six or seven years that I decided to explore his earlier albums more closely.

Cohen’s latest album ‘Old Ideas’ comes seven years after his previous ‘Dear Heather’. The first thing that strikes you is how his voice is now sounding even deeper. As a reviewer in Amazon wrote, his voice has now passed its way from the whisky and cigarettes stage, and is now on its way to a chronic bronchitis sound. That may seem like a negative remark for some, but the fact is that at 77, Cohen is actually in prime vocal form. He has always had a distinct timbre, but that ‘boom’ is sounding more intoxicating and heavenly now.

‘Old Ideas’ contains 10 new songs, of which three fall in the uptempo category — the other being laidback and moving. While Cohen is involved in the penning of each song, he’s joined by a group of co-writers including longtime Madonna collaborator Patrick Leonard and close associate Anjani Thomas, who’s worked with him on three previous albums.

The mood is set with the haunting ‘Going Home’, which has an opening tune reminiscent of ‘I Left A Woman Waiting’. Accompanied by some melodious violins and charming female choruses (a regular feature on this album), Cohen’s voice thunders as he sings: “He will speak these words of wisdom, like a sage, a man of vision, though he knows he’s really nothing but the brief elaboration of a tube”. The way he uses open spaces between words is extraordinary.

At seven minutes and a half, ‘Amen’ is the only long song here, and the sudden burst of trumpet gives it an exotic, jazzy feel. More violins and female back-up follow in ‘Show Me The Place’, but it’s the blues-based and brisk ‘Darkness’ which offers sudden variety. While the United Heart Touring Band chips in with neat arrangements on this song, lines like “I used to love the rainbow, I used to love the view, I loved the early morning, I’d pretend that it was new, But I caught the darkness baby, and I got it worse than you” reflect Cohen’s songwriting brilliance.

Other lyrical gems come from ‘Anyhow’, which requests another chance for reunion from a separated one (“I know you have to hate me, but could you hate me less?”) and the Anjani Thomas co-written ‘Crazy To Love You” (“I’m old and the mirrors don’t lie”). A wonderful chorus line dominates the spiritually uplifting and sing-along marvel ‘Come Healing’, whereas ‘Banjo’ is a country-flavoured song with a pleasant acoustic guitar and smooth cornet.

The album concludes with the bedroom-voiced ‘Lullaby’, whereas the quicker ‘Different Sides’ makes smart use of the Hammond B3 organ, and has Cohen singing: “Both of us say there are laws to be obey, but frankly I don’t like your tone, You want to change the way I make love, I want to leave it alone”.

The best thing about ‘Old Ideas’ is the simplicity of the tunes, the quality of the words and its overall replayability. Morning, afternoon or night, the songs haunt you. Though my other favourite albums have been ‘Songs Of Leonard Cohen’, ‘Death Of A Ladies’ Man’ and ‘Recent Songs’, his latest effort would rate among his best, and arguably his most stylishly produced.

In terms of numbers, Cohen hasn’t really been as prolific as some of his contemporaries — 12 studio albums in 45 years, in comparison to Dylan’s 34 in a 50-year career. But over time, Cohen has made an impact as one of the most powerful songwriters, using themes as diverse as love, sex, religion, politics, war and depression, accompanied by innovative metaphors and remarkable imagery. This venture, which focusses on the themes of love, desire, hope, suffering and regret, just proves that ‘Old Ideas’ can be great ideas too.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Classic

Pure Paul, Simply Simon

CD recommendation

So Beautiful Or So What/ Paul Simon

SO 2011’s over. If one looks back at the rock and pop releases of the year, there were some highs and some lows. Like all years.

On the negative side, many well-known rock groups produced albums that had some individually great songs but yet lacked the extra brilliance overall. Coldplay’s ‘Mylo Xyloto’ seemed too pop-pish when compared to their older material. On ‘I’m With You’, funk-rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers sounded grossly repetitive, in spite of a new guitarist. Radiohead’s ‘The King Of Limbs’ and REM’s ‘Collapse Into Now’ were reasonably good, but definitely not among their best. Nickelback had a crackling rocker in ‘Here And Now’, but it was the same old ‘whine’ in a new bottle.

The goodies included ‘Codes And Keys’ by alternative rockers Death Cab For Cutie, ‘The King Is Dead’ by folk-rock outfit The Decemberists, the much-acclaimed PJ Harvey album ‘Let England Shake’ and ‘21’, which proved that Adele is the female voice to look out for in the next few years. Superb albums all. But if this blogger is to choose his album of the year, it would be Paul Simon’s weirdly-titled ‘So Beautiful Or So What’.

The second greatest Paul (the first being McCartney, of course), Simon turned 70 on October 13. At a time when many of his living contemporaries (barring Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, Eric Clapton and maybe commercially, Carlos Santana)  have ceased to recreate the magic of the past, he came out with one of his best solo efforts. Among the 12 he’s released so far, this one is next only to his 1986 masterpiece ‘Graceland’, in my opinion.

Many of us would have grown up on this genius’s work with the evergreen Simon & Garfunkel. Songs like ‘The Sound Of Silence’, ‘The Boxer’, ‘El Condor Pasa’, ‘Scarborough Fair’, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, ‘America’ and ‘Mrs Robinson’ have been part of our musical upbringing. In comparison, he hasn’t really been too prolific or consistent as a solo artiste, though he’s had some quality recordings like ‘Graceland’, ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’, ‘One Trick Pony’ and ‘The Rhythm Of The Saints’.

Simon’s latest album comes five years after ‘Surprise’, where he’d teamed up with the highly-innovative Brian Eno. Listening to ‘So Beautiful Or So What’, two things stand out. One is Paul’s voice, which sounds like he’s still in his 40s or even 30s if you please. Yes, there are instances when he seems to be inspired by Dylan, more in the pattern of delivery than in the vocal texture — like on the song ‘Love Is Eternal Sacred Light’. But there are also times when his voice is filled with youthful romance ­— like ‘Dazzling Blue’, which features Indian percussionist Karaikudi R. Mani.

The second plus point is the quality of Simon’s lyrics, which are as evocative and elegant as before. ‘Dazzling Blue’ and the title song are simple but beautiful.  ‘Love And Hard Times’ and ‘Getting Ready For Christmas Day’ have a religious flavour.  But the ones that stand out are ‘The Afterlife’, where a dead man talks of his experience of meeting God, and ‘Rewrite’, which is about a person who’s ashamed of his part but optimistic about his future.

Aided by Phil Ramone’s lush production, ‘So Beautiful Or So What’ is an album that grows on repeated listening. So what if it doesn’t have the sheer experimentation of ‘Graceland’ and its South African flavour, or ‘The Rhythm Of The Saints’ and its Latin American feel? In fact, this is straight-ahead songwriting at its best. And that’s what makes it so beautiful.

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