Though not technically Paul Simon’s solo debut – that honor goes to the acoustic performances he recorded for 1965’s The Paul Simon Songbook – this first post-Simon & Garfunkel album does represent the true beginnings of Simon’s massive success as a solo artist. Released in 1972, it came two years after Simon & Garfunkel bowed out with the Grammy winning Bridge Over Troubled Water, and the same year as the duo’s greatest hits album topped the chart. Simon’s re-debut was a strong artistic statement that was both commercially successful and the seedbed for experimentation and growth that would mark his solo career. The album opens with the reggae-inspired hit single “Mother and Child Reunion,” and along with the Latin influences of “Me and Julio Down By the School Yard” and haunting Andean instrumental breaks in “Duncan,” the melting pot of styles predicted the wealth of world music Simon would fold into his music.
At 32, Simon had matured from the sharp, at times bitter, worldview of his twenties. The difficulty of Simon & Garfunkel’s end had given way to the freedom of a solo act, and there’s a sense of renewed discovery in his characters and lyrical forms. The wayward “Duncan” recounts the education of a small-town fisherman’s son into a clear-eyed world traveler, while the fragmentary allusions of “Mother and Child Reunion” are surprisingly open-ended and poetically opaque. Simon’s marriage with his wife was apparently following his professional partnership with Garfunkel into dissolution, providing grist for “Everything Put Together Falls Apart,” “Run That Body Down” and “Congratulations.” Simon’s voice never sounded better, he asserts his picking talent on “Armistice Day” and “Peace Like a River” and vamps happily behind violinist Stephane Grappelli on the swing instrumental “Hobo’s Blues.”
Producer Roy Halee, as he’d done for Bridge Over Troubled Water, surrounded his artist with friendly, talented and inventive musicians. Together they crafted spacious, highly sympathetic arrangements that had the delicacy of an acoustic band, the depth of a jazz combo and the power of well-placed moments of electric guitar. Columbia/Legacy’s 2011 reissue reuses Bill Inglot’s remastering and the three bonus tracks of Rhino’s 2004 reissue, including solo acoustic-guitar demos of “Me and Julio Down by the School Yard” and “Duncan,” and an alternate version of “Paranoia Blues.” Legacy’s traded out Rhino’s digipack for a standard jewel case and an 8-page booklet of lyrics and pictures.
Peace Like a River