Paul Simon Confronts Mortality on ‘Seven Psalms’: Review

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Paul Simon’s Seven Psalms, his first album since 2018’s In the Blue Light, isn’t quite like anything he has done before. For starters, it’s more prayer than pop, more meditative than melodic, and it is subdued enough to make even songs like “America” and “The Only Living Boy in New York” seem sprightly by comparison. Also, while the now 81-year-old Simon has written about aging and mortality throughout his career (see 1966’s “Leaves That Are Green” and 1968’s “Old Friends,” for example), the topic has never previously been stage center throughout an entire LP. Finally, the new album presents its seven parts as a single 33-minute track. So, you can forget about buying—or playing—just one or two favorite numbers; this is basically an all-or-nothing proposition.

Simon says the CD’s title came to him in a dream in 2019 and that the lyrics subsequently entered his head in bits and pieces when he’d wake up in the early morning hours. His fingerpicked guitar and other acoustic instruments—ranging from gongs and bells to talking drum, dobro and harmonica—back his pensive vocals on the album, which also features musicians who add Swiss tuned bells, flute, viola, cello and more. The British group VOCES8 and singer/songwriter Edie Brickell, Simon’s wife of more than 30 years, provide vocal support.

Watch a trailer for Seven Psalms

He describes the May 2023 release as being about “an argument I’m having with myself about belief,” so it’s no surprise that the poetic lyrics conjure up a man who is struggling and has more questions than answers. “I have my reasons to doubt,” he sings at one point. “Two billion heartbeats and out, or does it all begin again?” In the same song, he seems to partially echo a line from Bob Dylan’s “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” when he proclaims that he’s “hoping the gates won’t be closed before your forgiveness.” Later, he observes that “we’re all walking down the same road to wherever it ends” and asks, “Are we all just trial and error, one of a billion in the universe?”

“Heaven is beautiful, it’s almost like home,” Brickell sings in the final psalm. “It’s time to come home,” she adds, before she and Simon conclude the record with “amen.”

This album is not going to grab you the way the upbeat, catchy material could on, for example, Simon’s Graceland or his LPs with Art Garfunkel. That said, it’s gentle, sweet and worth hearing. Just leave your dancing shoes at the door.

Related: Our Album Rewind of a much earlier Simon solo LP

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