All of Paul Simon's solo albums ranked

Every Paul Simon solo record reviewed.

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No. 15 - SONGS FROM THE CAPEMAN (1997)

Other than the period between his first two solo albums, during which time he released four other albums with Art Garfunkel, the longest gap between Simon's recordings came between The Rhythm of the Saints (1990) and Songs From The Capeman. Simon devoted a lot of that time to writing and producing an original musical play, collaborating with Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. The play, based on the life of a Puerto Rican gang member Salvador Agron, flopped.

So Simon recorded the songs he had written for the musical as a new album. The music, largely based on the NY doo-wop he had grown with, is often engaging. But as a stand-alone album, divorced from the narrative of the musical play, it doesn’t work. The songs can be confusing, and Simon’s brutal, graphic language feels gratuitous without the characters and the drama of the play to provide context.

He recruited several cast members from The Capeman to appear on the album, and the songs they sing tend to work best. “Sunday Afternoon,” a gorgeous Latin-tinged mother’s lament sung by Adnita Nazario offers a hint of what was best in the original conception. Simon’s own rendition of “Born in Puerto Rico” desperately needed a different voice.

Still, though I am calling this Paul Simon’s least successful solo album, there is enough interesting music and thought to make it worth a listen. The theatrical, piano-driven “Vampires” and the doo-wop of “Killer Wants to Go to College” are unlike most songs you will hear elsewhere. By the time he reaches the end, with “Trailways Bus,” we are back to a fairly traditional Paul Simon tune – as if such a thing is possible.