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on June 14, 2012
Note: This is a review of the remastered sound quality on the 25th Anniversary CD release.

About the only good reason to remaster a classic album for CD these days is to improve upon errors made on past remasters, since most classic albums have now been released on CD multiple times already. The best a remastering can do is to faithfully reproduce the sound of the original album, as it was intended by the creative forces that produced it, and possibly improve on it with a superior higher-resolution transfer of the original tape. More often than not, however, remasters are just used as a justification by the record companies for the umpteenth dip into our wallets, doing nothing to improve the sound, and going a good distance toward making it worse. Unfortunately, that is exactly what we have with this latest version of Graceland. Rather than giving us something noticeably better than the previous 2004 remaster, Sony has just given us more of the same. Because the company has its eye on the deluxe package market, with all the bonus tracks, luxury-grade packaging, DVD concert, and an $85 price tag, the album itself has become almost an afterthought. That is unfortunate, because this classic album deserves better.

A bit of a history lesson for the unaware: Graceland was first issued in 1986. Mastered by Greg Calbi, the CD at that time presented the album very well - with an appropriate level of gain that left breathing room for the dynamics, and a natural, mellow EQ that allowed the music to speak for itself. Indeed, comparisons to vintage vinyl reveal that the 1986 CD was very similar in sound and dynamic range to initial vinyl pressings of the album. In 2004, Warner reissued the album with (non-essential) bonus tracks. The remastering by Dan Hersch and Bill Inglot was louder, and was underscored by a V-shaped, in-your-face EQ that pushed both the low and high frequencies. In 2011, Sony released a newly mastered disc featuring the same track listing as the 2004 Warner version. It was again mastered by Greg Calbi. Now, in 2012, Sony has come out with this latest version, also mastered by Calbi. To my ears both the 2011 and 2012 releases sound identical to each other, but the 2012 version has a different selection of bonus tracks, and is dubbed the 25th Anniversary edition. (Why the 25th Anniversary edition should come out 26 years after the album's release, I have no idea, but that really is the least of this version's problems.) So, for the purposes of evaluating sound quality, this review serves to evaluate both the 2011 and 2012 releases.

So, how did Sony screw this up? In a word: loudness. Amazingly, it's even louder and more compressed than the 2004 remaster, and that's saying something. Consider these stats, which show the peak level and average volume of "You Can Call Me Al," from the 1986, 2004 and 2012 CD masterings, respectively (units are the percentage of a CD's maximum gain):

1986: peak = 98.38; average = 39.63

2004: peak = 98.85; average = 74.22

2012: peak = 96.69; average = 80.65

Even with a lower overall peak volume, the 2012 remaster still has a significantly higher average volume than even the 2004 remaster, and it is actually more than twice as loud, on average, as the original 1986 master. Although the tracks do not appear to be clipped, peaks are still maxed out, with no breathing room for transients. The compressed dynamics really rob the music of a certain amount of punch - something African rhythms should have in spades. Everything sounds the same, and nothing pops or jumps out as it should.

What's really too bad is that the EQ on this release is actually very nice. It strikes a good balance between the neutrality of the 1986 release and the over-emphasized highs and lows of the 2004 remaster, adding a bit more character to the 1986 sound, without going over the top. Had Sony coupled this sound signature with the dynamics of the original mastering, I think this could have been a very good release. However, as it stands, I cannot give this a positive recommendation. If you're not a critical listener, it will probably sound OK to you, because the EQ is pleasing enough; I wouldn't go so far as to call this "unlistenable." However, the bottom line is that this not an improvement over what has come before; rather, it is yet another step backwards. If you already have the original CD, you've got the best CD version available, by a considerable margin; this remaster does not warrant a re-purchase. And that's really where this version ends up failing. Although Sony evidently expects us to pony up the cash for a triple dip, the company has not given us something worthy of the expenditure. Nor have they given newcomers to this perennial favorite the definitive sound a remaster ideally should provide. What we are left with, then, is a commercial afterthought and a wasted opportunity.
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I have a hard time deciding if Graceland isn't Paul Simon's best work. Take his first album (simply titled Paul Simon.) That was a breakthrough song fest when it came out in 1972. We were all sorry to see Simon and Garfunkel break up --would we ever see the likes of "Bridge over Troubled Water" again? While Paul's solo work was different than the duo, who could resist those catchy and quirky songs? This was one of the great albums that debuted during pop and rock music's finest years (in my opinion) --the early 70's.

When "Graceland" came out after the music's death by disco in the 80's, I was thrilled. At last, something great to listen to. What a sound! The mix of South African music with Simon's style of songwriting was unique and appealing. The deep, swooping tones of Ladysmith Black Mambazo make a wonderful contrast to Simon's light tones in the title cut. The typical Simon bouncing rhythm is vastly improved by the African mix. And Simon does the favor of introducing the great South African band, who went on to enjoy their own, richly deserved fame.
All in all, a great album that never fails to cheer me up.
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on June 12, 2012
The 25th Anniversary remaster is a victim of the loudness war that is killing the dynamic range of modern music. The compression of the dynamic range has made this remastered CD nearly unlistenable. The title track on the original 1986 release has a dynamic range of 13, while the same track on the 25th Anniv. remaster has been squashed to 7. The openness is gone and individual instruments are all at the same level: LOUD. This might be fine for dance music, but not for Paul Simon. Remaster engineer Greg Calbi of Sterling Sound can do incredible work, but this isn't one of them. Also, I don't own the 2004 Rhino remaster, so I can't compare it. All in all, my advice is to stick to the 1986 CD release.
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on September 12, 2000
The poet, singer, musician and visionary Paul Simon scores a huge triumph with "Graceland," his foray into South African, Zydeco, and pure funk rhythms and sounds. He starts out strong with "The Boy In The Bubble," an almost profound musing on our contemporary world: "These are the days of miracle and wonder / This is the long distance call / The way the camera follows us in slo-mo / The way we look to us all," then takes you right into the title cut, "Graceland," on which he is joined by the Everly Brothers, a song filled with poignant metaphor and memorable images: "The Mississippi Delta / Was shining like a National guitar / I am following the river / Down the highway / Through the cradle of the Civil War." "I Know What I Know," is a catchy, fun song followed by the upbeat, rhythmic "Gumboots," on which he is joined by The Boyoyo Boys. A hook of South African rhythms launches the hypnotic "Diamonds On The Souls Of Her Shoes," which features an a capella intro that sets the mood for a wonderfully transporting piece of music. Then it's fun again with the funky "You Can Call Me Al," filled with subtle humor that's like an invitation to sing along. Linda Ronstadt joins Simon on the melodic "Under African Skies," a lilting tune with the pensive refrain: "This is the story of how we begin to remember / This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein / These are the roots of rhythm / And the roots of rhythm remain." The South African sound predominates the driving "Homeless," on which Ladysmith Black Mambazo joins in; this song, which incorporates Zulu is not only uplifting, but mesmerizing. The South African band Stimela backs up Simon on the syncopated "Crazy Love, Vol. II," another song laced with subtle humor: "Fat Charlie the Archangel / Sloped into the room / He said I have no opinion about this / And I have no opinion about that." The Zydeco influence takes over on the rousing "That Was Your Mother," which rings with accordion, drums, washboard and sax that evokes the spirit of Clifton Chenier, the "King of the Bayou." And for the grand finale, it's one that will really grab you, "All Around The World Or The Myth Of Fingerprints," on which he is joined by the East L.A. band, Los Lobos; it's a song that will take you along with it, and have you singing all the way. It's a terrific finish to a terrific album. This is one of Simon's best; it'll grab you by the soul, and once it has you it isn't going to let you go. For anyone who hasn't heard this album, it's a great experience just waiting to happen.
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HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICEon December 6, 2000
Prior to the release of Graceland in 1986, Paul Simon was already a musical superstar. From his 60's days as one half of Simon & Garfunkel to his solo work the 70's, he created some of the most memorable songs in music. Through it all, the basis of his music was an acoustic guitar and deeply rooted in American sounds like doo wop, folk or jazz. When one heard the South African rhythms that came from Graceland, the last person you'd expect them to come from would be Mr. Simon. The lyrical content of the album is no surprise as Mr. Simon is one of the best in the business, but the musical backing is fresh, new and vibrant. "The Boy In The Plastic Bubble" just explodes out of your speakers and for some reason the song reminds me of a carnival. Ladysmith Black Mambazo adds stirring vocals to the sublime "Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes" while adding a plaintive almost mournful sound to "Homeless". Linda Ronstadt supplies a fine harmony vocal on "Under African Skies" while Los Lobos assists on the albums closer "All Around The World". "You Can Call Me Al" had a hilarious video with Chevy Chase but beside having a good video, the song is as bouncy and catchy as anything he's ever recorded. He not only uses South African beats, but he explores zydeco music on "That Was Your Mother" and stays at home on the title track. Graceland is the peak of Paul Simon's long and illustrious career.
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on June 10, 2002
This CD was made in the mid- to late 1980's and features collaborations with many different performers and many different styles. Here, you will hear various South African artists, like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the Boyoyo Boys, and Baghiti Khumalo; the Everly Brothers; the east L.A. band Los Lobos, the cajun band Good Rockin' Dopsie and the Twisters; and Linda Ronstadt. Listening to this music will take you from the bayou of Louisiana to the heart of Africa.
The first thing that struck my attention is the use of percussion and accordion. This is the emphasis for the songs rather than the guitar work. The second thing is the blending of Zulu and English lyrics like in the songs "I Know What I Know" and "Homeless." Both things are a breath of fresh air into Simon's work.
The two stand-out songs on this album, for me, were "You Can Call Me Al" and "Under African Skies." The former was very popular on MTV at the time, and in concert, Paul Simon usually played this song twice through the early 1990's. That is just how energetic it is. The latter has Linda Ronstadt who has such a great voice.
I would highly recommend this album. The rhythm is catchy and will get your toe tapping.
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This Grammy Award-winning album from 1986 is usually considered to be Paul Simon's crowning achievement in a stellar career with many high-points. His peerless songwriting and poignant lyrics are fused with intelligent use of folk and brass instruments: Zulu Mbaqanga rhythms, the Ladysmith Black Mambazo choir showcasing their a capella style, plus the Zydeco creole music of Louisiana; the Everly Brothers, Linda Ronstadt and Los Lobos also feature in cameo performances. It's absolutely gorgeous and hasn't aged a day in 26 years.

The album works best when listened to as a whole experience, rather than sampled track by downloaded track - like having a full meal rather than just eating the beans one day, and the sauce on another occasion. Only when the whole is savoured and digested can the extraordinary blend of complimentary musical styles be appreciated, and the grand creation be enjoyed and fully understood.

Now the 1986 CD release was in every way superb, containing a dynamic range allowing for the subtleties of the unusual instrumentation and vocal combinations to shine, with plenty of light and shade. The 2004 `re-mastered' CD was overall `louder' than the earlier mix, lacked the depth and contrast of the original and was definitely not an improvement. Unfortunately this `25th anniversary remaster' (actually the 26th anniversary, not the 25th) CD is, if possible, even worse. It's another victim of the `loudness war' destroying the subtleties of thoughtful and complex music by compressing the dynamic range, resulting in little difference between loud and quiet sections, diminishing its emotional power and - compared to the 1986 original - making it a tiring experience for the listener. The dynamic range is so reduced by compression and clipping that the result is just loud: as with dance music, it's like being shouted at all the time. Greg Calbi, the engineer, has short-changed genuine music fans and diminished Paul Simon's masterpiece to a result that's just, well - DULL in comparison to what it should be.

Best advice is to stick to the 1986 CD release, if you can get a good copy. It's the real deal.
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on February 5, 2002
Good music doesn't get older. This is the point this album keeps on making. What it means is the following;
I am now 16 years old. While most of my generation is listening to the newest rising stars, who will be forgotten in the time it takes to blink, I am absolutely loving (!) the good music from yesterday. Everybody I tell of my taste in music looks at me as if I'm crazy, but the minute I let them hear Paul Simon, they have to agree with me; this is the best of the best.
My point is the following; today's music isn't any good. If it was, trends wouldn't change so much. If you only look at this one album. People of this generation still absolutely love it, while today's music is forgotten tomorrow...
This is music you will remember when you've forgotten everything else. My parents did, and let me hear the great rythms and beats combined with the absolutely great lyrics of Paul Simon's Graceland, and thus got me hooked to one of the greatest artists of the 1980's.
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on July 3, 2002
When I was five or six, every time I got into the car with my parents, I would yell for Paul Simon. Not just any Paul Simon album, mind you, but "Graceland." Then, for a tragic period of ten years without "Graceland," I have rediscovered it at the tender age of 17. I popped the old tape back into the cassette player and was blown away. The opening accordian riff and lines got me listening intently right away. ("It was a slow day, and the sun was beating on the soldiers by the side of the road, there was a bright light, a shattering of shop windows, the bomb in the baby carriage was wired to the radio"). The album shifts styles continuously throughout the album. Ladysmith Black Mambazo adds the South African flavor in songs such as "Homeless" and "Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes" (Paul performed a fantastic rendition of the latter on Saturday Night Live). Other standout songs include the title track, "You Can Call Me Al," whose video features a hilarious cameo by Chevy Chase, and "Under African Skies." "Graceland" is easily one of the best albums to come out of the otherwise dismal 80's, and a must-have for most music fans.
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on December 8, 1999
From the broken accordian strands of "Boy in the Bubble" to the rousing "Myth of Fingerprints," 'Graceland' is a throughly satisfying album. Not only are the lyrics truly inspiring, but the music is as fresh & energetic as it was in the mid-1980s. This is a classic example of a great record: the production, the use of cultural music, & strong songwriting. The ECD version contains some great clips & interviews which expose the genius behind this album.
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