Among the most popular artists and greatest songwriters of our time, Paul Simon receives the first Gershwin Prize for Popular Song from the Library of Congress at a concert gala/tribute airing in high definition on PBS nationwide June 27. In celebration, the two-CD The Essential Paul Simon brings together all of his hits and favorite tracks in the most expansive, solo career spanning compilation issued for the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. This is the deluxe version that comes with a bonus DVD.
While the restless artisanship of Paul Simon's music has been previously anthologized more than once, this double-disc-plus-DVD set instantly takes its place as the most comprehensive yet musically insightful overview of his solo career. Six tracks from the singer's Grammy-winning triumph Graceland
, the 1986 collection that both reinvented Simon's career and pushed world music into a well-deserved spotlight, serve as the collection's focal point. They bridge the more traditional '70s singer-songwriter fare Simon pursued after his split with partner Art Garfunkel and the often openly experimental avenues that more recently led to his rewarding 2006 collaboration with Brian Eno, Surprise
. Simon's innate artistic curiosity is further underscored by the album's creative sequencing, which eschews strict chronology for a tack that weaves the songs into a more musically and thematically cohesive tapestry. The bonus DVD culls together visual materials that range from the expected videos (including a turn with Mickey Mantle in the early "Me and Julio," the signature, Chevy Chase-starring "You Can Call Me Al," "The Boy in the Bubble," and "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" from Graceland
) and TV performances that include a plaintive "Mrs. Robinson" from a 1970 Dick Cavett show and three era-spanning appearances on Saturday Night Live
, including a warm 1976 duet with George Harrison on "Homeward Bound" that legend says was nearly the catalyst for a full onstage Beatles reunion. --Jerry McCulley