Sunday, June 10, 2012


I assume you don't need me to tell you anything about the album proper;  indeed a friend mentioned he'd had three or four copies of it since it came out 25 years ago.  Let's just say it was a game-changer, opening the ears of millions to World music, and becoming the favourite all-time album for many (ya, I'm looking at you, Oprah).  So let's concentrate on the bonus stuff here on the 25th anniversary edition.  Oh, and if you're wondering if it's worth the price, I saw a great deal on the CD-DVD package at Chapters, where if you buy twenty dollars worth of other stuff, you can get the Simon set for $9.99.

On the CD side, there are six bonus cuts, three of which originally appeared on the expanded 2004 edition.  These are demos and slightly alternate versions that give an indication of how the songs progressed, including a sparse start of the circular Homeless theme, as Ladysmith Black Mambazo started to add their distinct vocals to Simon's starting phrase.  Crazy Love is the studio jam recorded with South African band Stimela, before it got taken back to New York, edited, Adrian Belew added, and lyrics written to become Crazy Love, Vol. 2.  There's always a spoken word piece, normally a very bad idea on CD's, but in this case it's a revelatory explanation of the creation of the Graceland song.  Simon explains how he heard a Sun Records feel in the South African beat, and when writing the words, "I'm going To Graceland" popped into his head and wouldn't leave.  So he actually went to Graceland, which inspired the famous descriptive opening, "The Mississippi Delta is shining like a National guitar."  Edited with bits of the song, it's the way a miniature audio documentary should be done.

The accompanying DVD is called Under African Skies, and is a totally new 2-hour film created for this edition.  It follows Simon as he returns to South Africa in 2011, to reunite with some of the musicians, and to once again face his critics.  Graceland was embroiled in controversy after its release, for possibly violating the UN's cultural boycott of the embattled country, then at the height of the violence surrounding Apartheid.  It's still a grey area, and Simon would dispute any crime, pointing out that the musicians were thrilled to be involved, and paid triple-scale.  His biggest critics of the time are interviewed again, including the head of the African National Congress, who sits with Simon as they discuss their different opinions.  As in the past, they agree to disagree, although it's now a moot point, and Simon gets praise for creating such a remarkable collaboration featuring African musicians.  Much period footage is used, including original studio recordings, as well as new shots of the principals playing the grooves again for the first time in 25 years.   It's all about the African side of the disc though; there's no mention of the tracks recorded in Louisiana (That Was Your Mother) or in L.A. with Los Lobos (All Around The World).  But the African part of Graceland has always made the better story, so that's the one we get.  It's still fascinating, and I'd recommend getting this set just for the documentary.  Consider the CD an extra present.  Also included are the music videos for You Can Call Me Al, The Boy In The Bubble, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes, and the Saturday Night Live premiere of that last song, which showcased Ladysmith and excited everyone who saw it, a full six months before the album came out.

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