For an artist whose career spans over 60 years and who has solidified himself in the pantheon of great musicians of the 20th century—and this one—Paul Simon has released a surprising album, even for those well-versed in his musical output. Seven Psalms is his first album of original material since 2016’s Stranger to Stranger, and it finds the folk icon in a profoundly reflective place.
In fact, Simon doesn’t really regard Seven Psalms as an album per se but instead as a “musical work,” according to a press release. The statement from Simon went on to describe it as a “33-minute, seven-movement composition,” to be listened to “as one continuous piece.” On top of that, it’s inspired by one of the most beloved collections of writing in the history of humankind, the Book of Psalms. It may sound like a lofty goal, but then again, this is the artist who composed “Bridge over Troubled Water,” “The Sound of Silence,” and myriad other transcendent and sublime contributions from the 1960s onward—both as a solo artist and with his frequent collaborator, Art Garfunkel. Suffice it to say, if anyone could pull off a project of this nature, it’s Simon.
Though it may seem like a challenging listen, once you hit play and sit back in your favorite spot to tune in to music, it’s an inviting and wonder-filled experience, whether you decide to listen to the whole 33 minutes at once or hit the pause button between the seven movements. I listened to it start to finish on my first go-around, so as to hopefully soak in the true spirit of the music.
Starting with the movement titled “The Lord,” I was really struck by the various images Simon connected with God. In it, he sings: “The Lord is my engineer/The Lord is the earth I ride on/The Lord is the face in the atmosphere/The path I slip and slide on.” He also identifies God as a “virgin forest” and a “forest ranger.” Simon ends this part of the composition with: “The COVID virus is the Lord/The Lord is the ocean rising/The Lord is a terrible swift sword/A simple truth surviving.” I didn’t take this to mean that Simon sees God as a punishing one. Rather, if God is indeed present in all things, that includes the challenging situations we face as the human race. The COVID-19 pandemic and the “ocean rising” from climate change certainly qualify as major events that require us to work together as an interconnected, global society.
Like the Psalms of the Bible, Seven Psalms is a mix of praise, lamentation, and prophetic vision. Simon also sneaks in a bit of humor in the movement titled “My Professional Opinion,” which helps balance the weightier moments. Whether it’s an album or a “musical work,” Seven Psalms is a rewarding listening experience from a master of the art form.
Five Essential Paul Simon Solo Albums
• The Paul Simon Songbook (1965)
• There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (1973)
• Still Crazy after All These Years (1975)
• Graceland (1986)
• Stranger to Stranger (2016)