Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"Simon, who turns 70 this year, is still forging his own path even this deep into his career and remains devoted to and fascinated by old R&B, gospel, and world music. So Beautiful or So What blends them all into a pop sound that's simultaneously laidback and spry, almost self-consciously alluding to his past triumphs... Even as his band gets smaller, Simon's ideas grow larger. He's addressing enormous spiritual matters, specifically the nature of God... Simon's not worrying over redemption on these spiritual inquests; he's much more concerned about what he'll do in heaven once he gets there. Turns out, he'll be listening to his favorite American tunes... After foundering when he tried to sound new and modern, Simon comes across as much more at ease and compelling in this familiar setting. He's like a novelist revisiting the particulars of his youth; like Norman Mailer and Philip Roth, he wants to take in his times, and like John Updike, Simon cherishes small epiphanies." -Pitchfork
"'So Beautiful or So What', steeped in Afropop and American folk forms, climbs some of the most resplendent summits of Simon’s career and ranks as his most consistent solo effort since 'Rhythm of the Saints' from 1990. A pursuit of the sublime has marked Simon’s best work, but the mission is more forthright here, achieved with a banquet of lush instrumentation that Simon helped spread to American pop with his 1986 landmark, 'Graceland'." -LA Times
"'So Beautiful' elegantly touches upon each of Simon’s solo signatures within a compact 38 minutes, its brevity indicating the precision of Simon’s focus. There are no wasted sounds or words here, and if he offers some of his simplest, prettiest tunes in years (“Love & Hard Times,” “Amulet”) and spends a considerable chunk of the record dwelling on spiritual matters, the album is neither steeped in nostalgia nor haunted by death. Paul Simon is remarkably clear-eyed in assessing the modern world and his place in it, not shying away from contemporary sounds... but not chasing after youth either. He’s merely living in his time and reporting, returning with an album that’s vivid, vibrant, and current in a way none of his peers have managed to achieve." -All Music Guide
Rolling Stone (p.71) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[F]ull of heavy business: life's meaning, beauty, brutality and brevity....It's his best album since 1990's THE RHYTHM OF THE SAINTS, and it also sums up much of what makes Simon great."
Rolling Stone (p.68) - Ranked #3 in Rolling Stone's '50 Best Albums Of 2011' -- "[Simon's] best album in more than 20 years..."
Entertainment Weekly (p.86) - "[T]he GRACELAND-ic guitar figures still emphasize rhythm above all....Spirited spirituality is his goal these days.' -- Grade: B+
Billboard (p.32) - "The album's songwriting and sound are deceptively complex, gradually revealing their intricacy with each listen. It's natural and earthy, with acoustic instrumentation and percussion to the fore."
Uncut (magazine) (p.32) - Ranked #29 in Uncut's '50 Best Albums Of 2011' -- "[A]n impeccably crafted, erudite and rueful collection of songs that tackled spirituality with both sureness and lightness of touch."
Audio Mixer: Phil Ramone.
Liner Note Author: Elvis Costello.
Photographer: Mark Seliger.
Produced by longtime collaborator Phil Ramone, Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So What features guitarist Vincent Nguini, percussionist Steve Shehan, backing vocals from Simon's wife, Edie Brickell, and his daughter, Lulu, and a generous helping of the bluegrass group Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.
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