Monday, October 12, 2015

the rhythm of the saints

Paul Simon reached in the darkness with a rattling deep emotion to find magical stories in the open palm of desire.   The acclaim afforded his Graceland album had revitalized his career; and he decided to expand its musical exploration from South African influences to West African and Brazilian polyrhythms.   In 1987, Simon worked with Milton Nascimento on his Yuarete album, and was invited to Brazil.  Simon and engineer Roy Halee began recording drums and rhythmic patterns with various groups.  These drum patterns formed the basis of his next project.  He reveals:  "I liked the idea of just going down there and wandering around musically, so to speak...The idea started with something Quincy Jones said to me during Graceland, about how the great singers come from the south of Africa, but the great drummers and instrumentalists come from the west coast of Africa. The path taken by the drum is similar to the African experience in the West. It follows the diaspora from the west coast of Africa to Brazil, up to the Caribbean and eventually into Louisiana...Some of these drum patterns are hundreds of years old.  Whether we know it or not, we all are affected by the culture that surrounds us - American popular music is primarily African-American in origin. These drums, in their pure form, had a hypnotic effect. They were used to bring people to a state where they could more easily access the spiritual aspects of their existence...That's why it's called The Rhythm of the Saints...If you've got a motor that's as powerful as those drums, you can touch on these subjects and not make everybody reach for a Valium. You can hit at the tender spots, then back off and let the groove come back and flow over you...Life is like that, isn't it?  A bleak thing occurs to you, you save it for some time and think about it, then the defense mechanisms come in and you go, 'Yeah, but you know, it's not so bad.' Or you'll be walking along, feeling fine and then pass some homeless person, and you're powerless all of a sudden. That's just the way the mind reacts."

The album included a parade of guest contributors including:   Paul Simon on vocals, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar;   Clifton Chenier on accordion;  Ladysmith Black Mambazo on background vocals;  Milton Nascimento on vocals;  Naná Vasconcelos on percussion, conga, triangle, berimbau, and gourd;  Adrian Belew on synthesizer;  J.J. Cale on guitar;  Rigo Star on guitar;  Michael Brecker on saxophone and EWI synthesizer;  Hugh Masekela on flugelhorn;  Giovanni Hidalgo on congas;  Kim Wilson on harmonica;  Clifton Anderson on trombone;  Francisco Aguabella on congas;  Artur Andres on percussion;  Mingo Araujo on percussion, castanets, congas, cymbals, drums, triangle, shaker, African bells, agogo bells, and casinette;  Isaac Asante on percussion;  Martin Atangana on electric guitar;  Dave Bargeron on euphonium;  Karen Bernod on background vocals;  Jude Bethel on tenor saxophone;  Jacques Bolognesi on trombone;  Randy Brecker on piccolo trumpet;  Briz on background vocals;  Anthony Carrillo on bongos;  Elolongue Mbango Catherine on background vocals;  Don Chacal on bongos, congas, bata, and gourd;  C.J. Chenier on accordion;  Wilson DasNeves on percussion and cowbell;  Djana'd on background vocals;  Charles Doherty on tenor & alto saxophone;  Steve Gadd on drums;  Florence Gnimagnon on background vocals;  Myrna Lynn Gomila on background vocals;  Gordinho on surdo;  Grupo Cultural Olodum on drums;  Alain Hatot on saxophone;  Errol Ince on trumpet;  Kia Jeffries on background vocals;  Remi Kabaka on percussion;  Bakithi Khumalo on bass;  Armand Sabal-Lecco on bass;  Charlotte M'bango on background vocals;  Andre Manga on bass;  Mazzola on percussion and chicote;  Jimmy McDonald on accordion;  Clyde Mitchell on trumpet;  Madeleine Yayodele Nelson on chekere;  Vincent Nguini on guitars, bass, and claves;  Greg Phillinganes on synthesizer;  Ray Phiri on guitar;  Raphael Rabello on guitar;  Decio Ramos on drums;  Felix Sabal-Lecco on drums;  Paul Santos on percussion;  Paulo Sérgio Santos on chicote;  George Seba on electric guitar;  Phillipe Slominski on trumpet;  Pedro Sorongo on percussion and scraper;  Justin Tchounou on synthesizer;  Antonio Luis Alves de Souza as director;  Remi Kabaka on drums;  Beloba on percussion;  Marçalzinho on percussion;  Armandinho on guitar;  Canegal on percussion;  Sidinho Moreira on bongos, conga, drums, bottle, and water bowl;  Madeleine Yayodele Nelson on shekere;  Jorge Ferreira da Silva on percussion;  Kofi Electrik on guitar;  and  Uakti on percussion.  

"I was really trying to draw the lyrics out of the sounds of the drums and the music.  I would do that over and over, and even if I reached a point in the sequence where I felt like that song was finished, I would sing it anyway, because I might find another way of phrasing the line, or another line would suggest itself...I think these songs are more stream-of-consciousness than Graceland. Inevitably there will be things that don't make sense. You have to be patient. You have to wait for the song to grow, and grow organically. It's like, you wait for it to reveal itself...If I was a major recording star who was black, I don't believe I would have come into that vehement a discussion, even if you disagreed with Graceland on some level, at least it was an interesting idea at a time when nobody in the industry even cared, when they were all so busy imitating whatever a hit was...The only answer to the lowest-common-denominator argument is to make a really good record that sells.  You can't wait around hoping that your set of values will prevail. You've got to think as hard as you can about how to sell your point of view, and then work hard doing it...It's like all those people who were worried about lip-syncing at concerts. Well, the answer to that is to do a concert of live musicians interacting in such a way that the audience is moved. Simple. Hard work will always pay off...People will respond to something that is real."

'The Rhythm of the Saints' elicited an international response, going to number eighty-seven in Japan;  twenty-two in France;  seventeen in Spain;  thirteen in Hungary and Italy;  eleven in Germany;  eight in Sweden;  seven in Finland;  six in Belgium, Norway, and New Zealand;  four in Austria and the US;  three in Australia and Switzerland;  two in the Netherlands;  and number one in Canada and the UK.    The album was nominated for Grammy Awards for Album of the Year and Producer of the Year.


"The Obvious Child"

Well, I’m accustomed to a smooth ride
Or maybe I’m a dog who’s lost its bite
I don’t expect to be treated like a fool no more
I don’t expect to sleep through the night
Some people say a lie’s a lie’s a lie
But I say why
Why deny the obvious child?
Why deny the obvious child?

And in remembering a road sign
I am remembering a girl when I was young
And we said, “These songs are true
These days are ours
These tears are free”
And hey
The cross is in the ballpark
The cross is in the ballpark

We had a lot of fun
We had a lot of money
We had a little son and we thought we’d call him Sonny
Sonny gets married and moves away
Sonny has a baby and bills to pay
Sonny gets sunnier
Day by day by day by day

Well, I’ve been waking up at sunrise
I’ve been following the light across my room
I watch the night receive the room of my day
Some people say the sky is just the sky
But I say
Why deny the obvious child?
Why deny the obvious child?

Sonny sits by the window and thinks to himself
How it’s strange that some roots are like cages
Sonny’s yearbook from high school
Is down on the shelf
And he idle thumbs through the pages
Some have died
Some have fled from themselves
Or struggled from here to get there
Sonny wanders beyond his interior walls
Runs his hands through his thinning brown hair

Well, I’m accustomed to a smoother ride
Or maybe I’m a dog who’s lost its bite
I don’t expect to be treated like a fool no more
I don’t expect to sleep the night
Some people say a lie is just a lie
But I say
The cross is in the ballpark
Why deny the obvious child?

'The Rhythm of the Saints'
full album:

All tracks composed by Paul Simon, except where indicated.

"The Obvious Child" – 4:10
"Can't Run But" – 3:36
"The Coast" (Simon, Vincent Nguini) – 5:04
"Proof" – 4:39
"Further to Fly" – 5:36
"She Moves On" – 5:03
"Born at the Right Time" – 3:48
"The Cool, Cool River" – 4:33
"Spirit Voices" (Simon, Milton Nascimento) – 3:56
"The Rhythm of the Saints" – 4:12

bonus tracks
"Born at the Right Time" (Acoustic demo) – 3:50
"Thelma" (Outtake) – 4:14
"The Coast" (Work-in-progress version) – 5:13
"Spirit Voices" (Work-in-progress version) – 3:49

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