The dreamlike qualities of Paul Simon’s 33-minute acoustic meditation Seven Psalms are no coincidence. The 81-year-old singer-songwriter said the title of the album and the lyrics to all seven songs came to him while he slept. Seven Psalms have come together over the past few years as an expansive concept piece unlike anything Simon has recorded in the past six decades.
The last time Simon made an album, in 2018 In the blue light – which arrived after a farewell tour – he revisited some of the lesser-known songs from his vast catalog, covering “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor” (originally from 1973 He go rhymin’ Simon) through “Questions to the Angels” (from 2011 So beautiful or so what). If that seemed a little disappointing after the exceptional year 2016 Unknown to strangerthe lack of inspiration to create anything new probably had something to do with it.
Seven Psalms does not lack inspiration – or aspiration, for that matter. Designed to be listened to in one uninterrupted half-hour session, the album unfolds as a single contemplative piece about spirituality and one man’s struggles with belief. The songs’ nocturnal origins often come into play: the whispered recitations, the hymn-like sweetness of the tracks, and the sweet echoes of supporting performers Edie Brickell (Simon’s wife since 1992) and Wynton Marsalis.
“Tears and flowers / With time dry / Memory leaves us / Melody and rhyme / When the cold wind blows“, sings Simon on the opening track, “The Lord”, whose lyrical and musical themes are woven throughout the album. Contemplating his winter years, he finds solace in these folk reveries, acoustic guitar fingering on a cozy background atmosphere. It is a far cry from the hectic island bustle of “Cecilia” and gracelandeven when a spark of youth in her voice returns in “Love Is Like a Braid” and “My Professional Opinion”.
Mainly, however, Seven Psalms is a musical prayer (the album’s last word is “amen”) with sometimes unexpected bursts of sharp soundscapes: the harmonica drifting like a mist in “My Professional Opinion”, the distant whistle heard in “Trail of Volcanoes”. The radio-ready melodies of his past aren’t there; nor Simon’s will to deliver them. Personal in a way that makes it more of an answered call than an album, Seven Psalmslike its nocturnal inspiration, is a nocturnal blessing to aging souls.
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He’s always been an uneasy folksinger, a role his record company tried to get him to play as early as Simon & Garfunkel’s debut album.