Paul Simon, "So Beautiful or So What"

Twenty-five years ago, Paul Simon's "Graceland" made him the ambassador who brought Third World music to the New Yorker set. So the obvious move for his latest release, "So Beautiful or So What," would have been a sort of "Return to Graceland." After all, that album is the apex of an innovative career that saw him bring reggae and gospel into the U.S. top 10 during the '70s and creating one of the most musically diverse "pop" albums ever with Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Yet obvious has never been his style. "So Beautiful or So What" is vintage Simon, but it's also all over the map stylistically, touching on blues, African, folk, Indian and more. The music is unmistakably his, but finds the artist challenging himself melodically and with his phrasing. The album's songwriting and sound are deceptively complex, gradually revealing their intricacy with each listen. It's natural and earthy, with acoustic instruments and percussion to the fore. The Afro-pop-flavored "The Afterlife" and bluesy "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light" are the standouts, but Simon rarely makes a misstep and continues to provide a stellar example of how a legend can age gracefully.