Paul Simon - Graceland 25th Anniversary Box Set

.
During 1986 and 1987 the pop music landscape was breathtaking and far more varied than anyone gives it credit for. Many dismiss it for being an era that relished big melodies and crystalline production aesthetics, but what made the latter part of the 1980's so enlivening was how much divergent and diverse music there was to get lost in. Music was undergoing a colossal change as new genres like thrash metal and rap began to emerge while other established artists infused their sounds lassoing several genres in ways no one had envisioned before, notably U2, Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon, who won the Album of the Year Grammy for Graceland in early 1987. Graceland has largely endured as something more than just one of the first mainstream albums to wholly embrace world music. Simon wasn't the first to do this, but how he went about doing it is what makes the album and its history so captivating. Up until now, Graceland has always been one of those records that I admired more than loved. It houses a true amalgamation of eclectic music which feels familiar and fresh simultaneously, a rare feat in any art form, but for some reason the album never connected to me as deeply as it possibly should. So why do I find myself suddenly enthralled with the record and its history? The recently released 25th Anniversary 4-disc box set of Graceland has not just re-introduced the record to me, but its accompanying discs present the album in a light never before imagined. This anniversary package is the definitive document on the album with the four discs encompassing its conception, birth and history in one perfect package.

The box set is housed in an oversized package which includes a recreated notepad full of partial lyrics and ideas Simon had for the album. Taking a cue from Bruce Springsteen (who housed his brilliant Darkness on the Edge of Town box set within a spiral recreated notebook), Simon has given us a glimpse into the ideas running rampant in his head as he tried to bring Graceland to life. The notebook is more than a mere souvenir with glorified liner notes, but an actual piece of history. There is also an extensive booklet of pictures with quotes from interviews, bonus interviews and videos on the DVD and a folded oversize poster of the album cover. But the real heft of this set lies in the music and DVD's. For the purposes of this review, I will break down and review each of the four discs below.

The Remastered Album
Listening to records decades after they were initially released is a tricky proposition. Often, nostalgia directs the experience not allowing us to look past the warm fuzzy feeling it gives us in our heart to see its flaws. That being said, I was floored by the emotions that overtook me when I listened to this new remaster. As I began to listen to the joyful "The Boy in the Bubble", I was hooked. For a record I haven't listened to this album front to back in decades and yet I was pulled in. The title track finds middle ground between African rhythms and a Sun Records shuffle. Up to this point, no one had ever been able to intertwine world music with pop music from the Western world. It could be argued no one ever topped what Simon did on Graceland.The bass and chorus of "I Know What I Know" sounds wholly unique but the lyrics come from someone who spent a lifetime around New York while the drums pop through the speakers highlighting the new remastered touches. "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" would have worked with Simon and an acoustic, but the Ladysmith Black Mambazo group take the song into unchartered waters (as seen by the Saturday Night Live performance included on one of the DVD's). Much credit must be given to the core backing band of Ray Phiri on guitar, Bakithi Kumalo on bass and Isaac Mtshali on drums who form the key band members on half of the album's tracks. The performances are so freeing and lack any type of ego, that they bring the songs an unadulterated joyfulness to them, something no studio musician probably could have delivered, no matter how talented.

Paul Simon, who received an enormous amount of flack for recording with South African musicians due to the cultural boycott due to South Africa embracing apartheid. This is the focus of the documentary Under African Skies discussed later in this review. It's a tricky thing to look at Simon as an innocent, because he did intentionally defy the African National Congress. He went to South Africa did more than just record with these musicians- he brought them to London and New York to complete work on that album. If that wasn't enough he went one step further and launched a tour with all of these musicians in tow. It would be too easy to dismiss Simon because you could make the argument that he brought more attention to these musicians and the music of South Africa than anyone else ever could have. Despite cutting through red tape, more than a quarter of a century later it's hard to imagine Graceland being the same record without these musicians. Graceland has never sounded better than it does on this new remaster. It appears to have been touched up for the 21st Century without blemishing it and sacrificing the bottom end for increased volume on the MP3. This is a rare album worth the upgrade based on the album alone, but as you're about to see, there is much more worth seeking out.

The Bonus CD
The two audio CD's are not full of an immense amount of bounty like some reissues of late, however, while alternate mixes and even a live album or acoustic versions would have been nice (Amazon.com has an exclusive five-track live CD from Spain included with the box), what is included I so spot on and perfect, you can't help but think anything else would have been superfluous. The bonus disc has demos for "Homeless", "Crazy Love" and "You Can Call Me Al", an alternate take of "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" and an early version of "All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints". While the second disc may appear to be slim, it's startling to hear. "Homeless" is a bare demo with his vocals and an acoustic guitar and is a stark contrast to the final product that wound up on Graceland. An extensive sequence in the documentary featuring the demo can be seen as they show the evolution of the song. While appearing as a bonus cut on an earlier reissue, it has added weight here due to the documentary. The early version of "All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints" has an accordion, heavy rhythm guitar and what sounds like what may be a drum machine. There is an instrumental demo of "You Can Call Me Al" and "Crazy Love" which are both missing the breezy punch that group gave the back of the track. This is an important lesson to take from this collection and this review. Sometimes, it is worth you time and energy to craft a song and push it along as far as you can. There is something to be said about not simply releasing your first draft. The final track is "The Story of 'Graceland" which finds Simon narrating anecdote and stories about the making of the album, which stands alone from the documentary.

Graceland: The African Concert
This concert film was a main stay on the VHS Music Video Charts in the late 1980's when music home video releases were reserved only for acts whose record sales were in the millions. Amazingly, the concert is receiving its first release on DVD. It's a wonderful representation of this album in a live environment and is notable for taking place in Zimbabwe which was a homecoming of sorts for musicians Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba who left South Africa and had not returned until this tour. The concert doesn't contain the encores of Simon and Garfunkel songs but is otherwise a complete record of what the tour was like back then. I'm not sure as to what level of mastering was done in bringing the film to DVD. While it looks good, much of the footage looks dated, however, it's watchable and while there are no bonus features, it's integral to the overall story of Graceland as Simon showed the world he could do more than create a record merging the music of clashing cultures, but he took it on the road and invigorated the world further in an audience that appears to have no cultural barriers.

Under African Skies Film Review
The most integral part of this reissue and box set is the new documentary, Under African Skies which was directed by Oscar nominee Joe Berlinger whose credits include the Paradise Lost trilogy and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. The film completes the circle of the box set and the album. It's a revealing and riveting look at more than just the Paul Simon and his music but the trouble he encountered by breaking a cultural boycott by going to record with musicians in South Africa. More than twenty-five years later, this may seem to be a minute detail, but the apartheid regime of South Africa was a very big deal in 1986. The repercussions as a result of going there, recording with the musicians and then touring with them led to bomb threats and repeated controversies throughout the tour. To the credit of the film, it does not shy away from any of this. It faces it head on and it's why this is more than your standard documentary. The film shows vintage footage of Simon recording the album and it's paired with new interviews and rehearsal footage of where he reunited with the Graceland band last year. The current day rehearsals and performances while nice to see, don't service the film as strongly as the archive footage paired with new interviews, which trace his creation of the songs that appear on Graceland. One element of the documentary I found fascinating was how Simon recorded the basic tracks with the musicians in South Africa without having any lyrics. I've always been in awe of anyone who writes music first and saves the lyrics for later because this increases the workload and makes the job ten times harder. He spoke about how "Graceland" was just a word he put in place until he could change it, until he realized it wasn't going away and how the music took him on a journey he could not have foreseen. One never imagines how much time, energy and hard work goes into creating music. More importantly, it shows how determined Simon was to create something truly lasting.

One of the aspects of this box set that is so downright staggering is how it encompasses the entire journey of Graceland. The demo disc captures the songs at their birth, the album is in many ways a toddler, on the live concert DVD we are able to watch these songs find their footing and expand to limits and boundaries beyond the record and finally on the gripping documentary Under African Skies it covers the thirty year history of not just the songs, but Paul Simon's journey, struggle and redemption. Watching to the documentary and the bonus cut of "The Story of 'Graceland' (Told by Paul Simon) makes you appreciate the album in ways not imaginable. This is a tall order for a top-five record who won the Grammy for Album of the Year. To me, Graceland isn't so much an album where Paul Simon took a detour, but a collection of songs representing the possibilities of pop music. There are new and inventive ways to tell a story and sometimes a voice and acoustic guitar will suffice, but sometimes you have to spice up the recipe to capture not just acclaim, but a wider audience as well. With Graceland Paul Simon reminded himself (and us) that great art is created from stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking a chance.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter


Paul Simon - Graceland 25th Anniversary Box Set
Rating:

Share this article
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Pin it Share on Reddit email this article

More articles for this artist .



advertisement

advertisement

News Reports
Day in Rock:
AC/DC With Axl Rose Concert Leads To Fine- Former Boston Drummer Sib Hashian Dies- Scorpions and Megadeth Tour - Slash Was Angry When Poison Didn't Hire Him- more

Former Boston Drummer Sib Hashian Dies On Legends Of Rock Cruise- Rolling Stones Film Expanded For DVD and Blu-Ray- David Bowie ZiggyZag Statue Fan Initiative Fails- more

Scorpions Confirm American Tour With Megadeth- Slash Was Angry When Poison Didn't Hire Him- Muse, Blink 1982. Arcade Fire Lead Lollapalooza Lineup- Metallica- more

Day in Pop:
Justin Bieber Calls Out Fans For Acting Like 'Animals'- L.A. Sheriff's Department Apologize To Wyclef Jean- Ed Sheeran To Receive Songwriters Hall Of Fame Award- more

Aerosmith, Chainsmokers, Keith Urban Lead NCAA March Madness Music Festival- Faith Hill And Tim McGraw Streaming New Song- Suge Knight Reportedly Hospitalized- more

Metal Band Cradle of Filth Slam Rapper Kanye West- Rick Ross Already Planning Next Album And Reveals Title- Justin Bieber Calls Out Fans For Acting Like 'Animals'- more/a>

advertisement


Reviews

On The Record: The Dollyrots - Whiplash Splash

TBT: Down III Over the Under

Les Bohem - Moved to Duarte

In Tribute: Chuck Berry Live In Chicago

Sad Vacation: The Last Days of Sid and Nancy

Emmet Cahill - Emmet Cahill's Ireland

American Dreamer - Restless Nights

Rock Reads: Out of the Basement: From Cheap Trick to DIY Punk in Rockford, Illinois, 1973-2005

Dan Webb - Oedipus The King

Root 66 Week: Corey Ledet and His Zydeco Band - Standing on Faith

Derek Davis - Revolutionary Soul

Root 66 Week: Darin and Brooke Aldridge - Faster and Farther

Road Trip: The True/False Film Fest 2017

Root 66 Week: Chip Taylor - A Song I Can Live With

Zucchero - Black Cat

Mike Llerena - Absence & The Heart

Root 66: Charlie and the Regrets - Rivers in the Streets

Tony K's Best Films Of 2016 List

Chickn - Chickn

Avenged Sevenfold TBT

Miss Ohio - White Hot: The Best of Miss Ohio

Joe Lynn Turner - The Sessions more

Rock News Stories
AC/DC With Axl Rose Concert Leads To Fine (top story)

Former Boston Drummer Sib Hashian Dies On Legends Of Rock Cruise (top story)

Scorpions Confirm American Tour With Megadeth (top story)

Slash Was Angry When Poison Didn't Hire Him (top story)

Previously Unreleased Pink Floyd Recording Coming For RSD (top story)

Clutch Announce Their Own Music Festival and Tour With Primus (top story)

Paul McCartney Shares Tribute To Chuck Berry (top story)

David Bowie, Prince, Jimmy Page Lead Record Store Day Releases (top story)

Joe Walsh Announces Special 3-Day Event At Graceland (top story)

Taking Back Sunday, Every Time I Die Summer Tour Announced (top story)

Nine Inch Nails Lead The FYF Fest Lineup (top story)

Cheap Trick Announce UK Mini Tour (top story)

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready Announces Book Release (top story)

Dopesick Recruit Ill Nino Frontman For 'Release Me' Video (top story)

Toto Announce Summer Tour With Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo (top story)

Raven Announce U.S. and European Tour Dates (top story)

Radiohead Reveal Support Act For U.S. Tour (top story)

Sublime Releasing Special Beer for '40oz. To Freedom' 25th Anniversary (top story)

Rolling Stones Film Expanded For DVD and Blu-Ray (top story)

David Bowie ZiggyZag Statue Fan Initiative Fails (top story)

The Def Leppard EP Getting Special Reissue (top story)

Allman Brothers Band Announce The Fox Box Set (top story)

The Doors' Robby Krieger Announces U.S. Solo Tour (top story)

2017 Warped Tour Lineup Announced (top story)

Kansas Add New North American Leg To Leftoverture Tour (top story)

Bob Dylan Explains Why He's Releasing 'Triplicate' (top story)

Prince Retains Most Extensive Record Ever Sold Honor (top story)

'Grateful Dead Movie' Returning to Theaters For One Night (top story)

Rocklahoma Festival Announces Daily Lineups (top story)

Metal Church Recruit Meshiaak To Support Euro Tour (top story)

Cro-Mags' John Joseph Announce Free Book Release Event (top story)

Blondie TV Concert Special Coming Next Month (top story)

Muse, Blink 1982. Arcade Fire Lead Lollapalooza Lineup (top story)

Jason Newsted Praises Metallica's New Album and His Replacement (top story)

Blessthefall Refuse 'Handouts' After Being Robbed On Tour (top story)

The Beatles' Hometown Announce 'Sgt. Pepper's' 50th Anniversary Celebration (top story)

New Chuck Berry Song 'Big Boys' Streaming (top story)

Lacuna Coil Release 'Blood, Tears, Dust' Video (top story)

Fates Warning Announce U.S. Summer Tour Dates (top story)

Adrenaline Mob Announce New Album 'We The People' (top story)

Fleetwood Mac, Bowie, The Doors, Ramones Vinyl For RSD (top story)

Ayreon Reveal Fan Made Video Finalist Clips (top story)

Junkyard Announce First New Album in 26 Years (top story)

Sabaton Release Teaser For American Tour With Leaves' Eyes (top story)

Richie Kotzen Release 'End Of Earth' Video (top story)

more

B-Side Stories
Metal Band Cradle of Filth Slam Rapper Kanye West (top story)

Rick Ross Already Planning Next Album And Reveals Title (top story)

Justin Bieber Calls Out Fans For Acting Like 'Animals' (top story)

L.A. Sheriff's Department Apologize To Wyclef Jean (top story)

Ed Sheeran To Receive Award From Songwriters Hall Of Fame (top story)

More Big Names Added As ACM Awards Performers (top story)

Bebe Rexha Hints At Possible Collaborating With Louis Tomlinson (top story)

Harry Styles May Release New Music Next Month (top story)

Judge Rejects Kesha Request In Battle Against Dr. Luke (top story)

Future And Mike WiLL Made-It Stream New Track 'Razzle Dazzle' (top story)

Paris Jackson Recalls Her Starstruck Meeting With Alice Cooper (top story)

Little Big Town Go Behind the Song 'Better Man' Ahead Of ACMs (top story)

Katy Perry's 'Chained to the Rhythm' Remixed By Lil Yachty (top story)

Aerosmith, Chainsmokers, Keith Urban Lead NCAA March Madness Music Festival (top story)

Faith Hill And Tim McGraw Streaming New Song 'Speak To A Girl' (top story)

Suge Knight Reportedly Hospitalized In Los Angeles (top story)

Zayn Malik Releases 'Still Got Time' Featuring PartyNextDoor (top story)

David Guetta Streams New Song Featuring Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne (top story)

Rick Ross May Have Identified DJ Khaled's 'They' (top story)

Kendrick Lamar Ignites Speculation With Online Move (top story)

Gorillaz Reveal Short Film To Announce New Album 'Humanz' (top story)

Dave Chappelle Impersonates Drake In Comedy Special Preview (top story)

Migos Brawl Release 'What The Price' Music Video (top story)

Iggy Azalea Streams New Single 'Mo Bounce' (top story)

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit Stream 'Hope the High Road' (top story)

Adele Dedicates Song To London Terror Attack Victims (top story)

Fifth Harmony's Lauren Jauregui In Bare With Me Photo Series (top story)

more



Follow Us:

Contact Us - Privacy - antiMusic Email - Why we are antiMusic

Copyright© 1998 - 2016 Iconoclast Entertainment Group All rights reserved.

Please click here for legal restrictions and terms of use applicable to this site. Use of this site signifies your agreement to the terms of use.