Paul Simon: "So Beautiful or So What"
It's been 20 years since Paul Simon made an album of note. That would be 1990's "Rhythm of the Saints," the Brazilian-flavored follow-up to 1986's South-African-rooted "Graceland."
With "So Beautiful or So What," Simon gets his groove back by returning to the template of those two discs, melding his singer-songwriter observations with percolating rhythms delicately and deftly employed. Mortality is on his mind, most effectively on "The Afterlife," which imagines the way into heaven as a bureaucratic process akin to waiting in line at the DMV.
Simon occasionally hits an awkward note. A reference to Jay-Z is out of place, and "Rewrite" is hackneyed. But he mostly keeps his big-idea discussions digestible by staying away from heavy-handedness and keeping the syncopated rhythms supple and inviting.
Elvis Presley: "Elvis Is Back!: Legacy Edition"
Elvis might have lost his way in the '60s, mired in movie and soundtrack mediocrity, but one thing's certain: His first post-Army album, in 1960, was an artistic triumph, one of the best of his career: "Elvis Is Back!"
Cut in Nashville with old accompanists Scotty Moore, D.J. Fontana and the harmonizing Jordanaires, as well as Music City session aces, the album takes Elvis more in a pop direction for several numbers.
Among the best are the gospel-accented "Thrill of Your Love" and the doo-wop-styled "Soldier Boy." "Dirty, Dirty Feeling" is a frisky little rocker, and "Fever" is finger-snapping hipster cool. The set also finds Elvis digging with obvious relish - and supreme command - into the blues, with knockout versions of "Like a Baby" and "Reconsider Baby."
This expanded two-disc reissue includes the 1961 follow-up, "Something for Everybody." It's not quite as strong, but it does boast more R&B-flavored standouts, including "Give Me the Right" and "Put the Blame on Me." Also featured are Elvis' hit singles from this period, such as "Stuck on You," "It's Now or Never," and "Little Sister." They weren't on the original albums.