Review: Paul Simon’s Religious Revival

Paul Simon/Seven Psalms/Owl Records
3.5 out of Five Stars

You have to give Paul Simon credit for defying expectations and reaching well beyond the breadth of anything he’s done before. Like the album Graceland, which resulted in an entirely different diversion from the narratives that came before, Seven Psalms is an album that attempts to recast Simon in an entirely different persona, that of an age-old folk minstrel given to songs of spiritual significance. 

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It wouldn’t be surprising if some fans are taken aback; after all, most of these offerings defy the notion of the traditional verse-chorus-verse song structure and lean instead towards a suite of sorts, where one track melds with another. There are small hints of earlier endeavors; “The Lord” and “Love Is Like a Braid” briefly recall the quiet contemplation shared in songs like “Duncan” and “Poem Written on the Underground Wall,” but in this case, Simon seems content to simply muse about higher possibilities, as if suddenly drawn to some spiritual signpost. The Lord is my engineer, he sings on one of those the three sequences that comprise “The Lord.” The Lord is the earth I ride on…The path I slip and slide on.

[RELATED: The Meaning Behind Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”]

If Simon finds himself slip sliding away, this time, he’s doing it with a clear purpose in mind.

Still, Simon doesn’t find God to be the merciful father that religion generally depicts. The opening track, the preface to “The Lord,” takes the form of an extended meditative narrative, which at one point declares, The Covid virus is the Lord, The Lord is the ocean rising, The Lord is a terrible swift sword, A simple truth surviving

Nevertheless, it’s not all fire and brimstone or preaching and proselytizing. “Love Is Like A Braid” takes on more of a personal perspective, with references to the safety and security of home and hearth. “Wait” is written in metaphors, a gentle entreaty to accept the afterlife with comfort and consideration. (Children! Get ready / It’s time to come home.) So too, “The Sacred Lamp” conveys its message more through tenderness than tenacity while relaying tales of travelers—or as he puts it, “refugees of sorts” —simply trying to find their way in the world while journeying towards their desired destination.

What caused Simon to take this sudden departure and wrap himself in divine trappings is anyone’s guess. Like Dylan, he rarely reveals himself except in song. Seven Psalms is certainly an intriguing album, but not necessarily one that will reflect the faith of his followers.

Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images

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