Paul Simon (with Ladysmith Black Mambazo)
“Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”
(from Graceland [25th Anniversary Edition]) — Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes - Graceland (Remastered)

I have written often in this space over the years about my disdain for the “deluxe edition” re-release, but urry once in a while, a recording comes along that truly merits the honor, and this week brings us one such special project, as one of the finest albums ever laid to tape returns to stores with a brilliant new expanded package just in time to mark its twenty-fifth anniversary.

Just months after the likes of Queen and Rod Stewart had been royally castigated by their peers for playing sold-out shows at the notorious Sun City casino and resort in South Africa — then still ravaged by the racial segregation practice known as apartheid — Paul Simon willfully ignored the cultural embargo of the time (not to mention long-standing United Nations sanctions) and traveled to the country to write and record a handful of songs with some of the nation’s premier artists and musicians, the fact of whose existence Simon desired desperately to introduce to a mass global audience. (And it bears noting: after a pair of blistering commercial disappointments — 1980’s One Trick Pony and 1982’s Hearts and Bones — Simon himself was surely looking for away to reignite his own flagging career.) The result of all this toil: the Grammy-winning masterwork Graceland, an eclectic and helplessly endearing melange of Africa-inspired rhythms and beats that returned Simon to the top of the charts and very much helped give rise to the so-called “world music” phenomenon over the decade to come.

Graceland is back this week with a pristine four-disc box set and a more manageable double-disc edition, each of which comes packed with a bounty of bonus material — including rare demos and alternate mixes — and a DVD containing Under African Skies, Oscar winner Joe Berlinger’s piercing documentary about the harrowing creation of this landmark album; and, more importantly, about Simon’s bold choice to disregard the tempestuous politics of the day in an (ultimately worthwhile) attempt to illustrate that music truly is the universal language, and in the name of creating something much more enduring than the endless sniping of warring ideologies: art. (It’s a lesson we seem to keep needing to re-learn, again and again and again.) For sure don’t let this one slip through the cracks of your record shopping experience this week.

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