There Goes Rhymin' Simon: The First Four Books Of Paul

With Paul Simon's latest CD, So Beautiful or So What, released this spring, the reissue folks at Columbia/Legacy have embarked on a reissue project. Out of the box first this month are his four solo releases after the implosion of Simon and Garfunkel.

Coming on the heels of S&G's epic farewell, Bridge Over Troubled Water, the simply titled Paul Simon (1971) couldn't have been more different. This low-key effort shows Simon dipping his musical toes into different genres - something he continues to do today - be it singer-songwriter ("Duncan," "Congratulations"), jazz ("Run that Body Down"), ballads ("Armistice Day"), and blues ("Paranoia Blues").

The record also debuted two hits, the reggae-tinged "Mother and Child Reunion" and the jaunty "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard" - though what Mama saw that was "against the law," he's never quite clarified... All in all, it's Paul Simon taking his first, almost shy steps into the solo spotlight. That's a theory borne out by the cover, which features Simon's face barely poking out of one of those huge fuzzy-hooded winter coats, making him look like a Jewish Eskimo.

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A more skilled and satisfying collection is There Goes Rhymin' Simon (1973). The songs are better, and the influence of producer Phil Ramone and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section flavor tracks like "Take Me To the Mardi Gras," the quirky "One Man's Ceiling is Another Man's Floor," and the gorgeous ballad "Something So Right."

And while "American Tune" doesn't quite play out as the epic statement that Simon is reaching for, he does deliver a tender father-son ballad rich with imagery in "St. Judy's Comet." And there's two more hits - the paean to now-forgotten photographic technology "Kodachrome," and the buoyant white-man's gospel of "Love Me Like a Rock." Simon is still working in many different genres here, but with more solid (and fun) results than his debut.

Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin' (1974) is a nicely effective concert souvenir, with tracks from both his Simon & Garfunkel and solo eras. Highlights include a just-Paul-and-guitar reworking of "Homeward Bound" (and the remastered sound really brings out the acoustic guitar picking), along with "Duncan" and "The Boxer." The last two are buoyed by the lyrical flutes-and-percussion playing of Urubama. Simon credits the group with introducing him to South American music in 1965, and their backing contributions add zest.

Additional guests include the Jessy Dixon Singers, whose wailing gospel vocals turn "Love Me Like a Rock," into something fit for a vibrant church service. "The Sound of Silence" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" come out like dreamy hymns.

But the best disc, where Simon brings it all together, is Still Crazy After All These Years (1975). And while hits including the title track, long a staple of wistful listening for middle-aged men, and the funny, inventive "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" are radio staples, there are plenty of other gems.

They include the nostalgic "My Little Town" (which reunited him on record with Art Garfunkel), the gospel-fueled "Gone At Last," the slinky vibe of "Have a Good Time," and even the somewhat creepy "Night Game," the only song, to our knowledge, to feature a baseball pitcher who dies on the mound.

Each disc features bonus tracks, including demos that revealingly sometimes don't resemble the finished tune. Unfortunately, there aren't any liner notes, photos, or historical essays which could have made the reissues even better for fans wanting some insight into Simon and his music.

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