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Paul Simon

Graceland: 25th Anniversary Edition (Sony Legacy)

Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., July 27, 2012

Phases & Stages

Paul Simon

Graceland: 25th Anniversary Edition (Sony Legacy)

Should Paul Simon be considered Africa's Alan Lomax? According to Under African Skies, an hour-long documentary on the making of Graceland by Joe Berlinger (co-director of Metallica's Some Kind of Monster), the diminutive singer-songwriter introduced the world to the seat of mankind's soundtrack. Hearing Simon reveal that South African a cappella choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo became overnight stars after backing him on Saturday Night Live following the release of the Grammy's 1986 Album of the Year certainly bolsters the filmmakers' case. That full clip of "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," one of a smattering of extras on Graceland's 2-CD/2-DVD 25th Anniversary Edition, dazzles on par with the box set's beating heart, a full concert of Simon leading an all-African band in Zimbabwe the next year. That band's uncanny live recreation of the album, as Simon delivers his greatest pop libretto, matches continental superstar Miriam Makeba singing Linda Ronstadt's part on "Under African Skies," guitar/bass duo Ray Phiri and Bakithi Kumalo weaving gold out of the title track's soft chording, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo all but stealing the show. The usual ephemeral padding – an extensive oral history rendered redundant by the documentary, a poster, and a replica of Simon's legal pad of lyrics – fills the linen-bound Graceland deluxe, which footnotes the remastered album with a 25-minute bonus CD of demos mostly heard on previous editions, though a 10-minute "The Story of 'Graceland'" audio deconstruction by Simon sums up the box in a song. Leaving only, perhaps, the musical mash-up of all time – Graceland itself – a summit of Western self-reflection and African spirituality met with a critical/political celebration and, originally, backlash. Pronounces Quincy Jones: "There's only 12 notes, man. Until God gives us 13, we all got the same materials to work with for 500 years. Twelve notes. That's what music is: the voice of God."

***

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