The Rhythm of the Saints is the eighth solo studio album by American singer-songwriter Paul Simon, released on October 16, 1990 on Warner Bros. Like its predecessor, Graceland (1986), the album gained commercial success and received mostly favorable reviews from critics.
In 1992, The Rhythm of the Saints earned two nominations for the 34th Grammy Awards – Album of the Year and Producer of the Year.
Following the success of 1986’s Graceland, on which he worked principally with South African musicians, Simon broadened his interests in diverse forms of music from around the world. He turned to Latin America for the musicians and rhythms which characterize much of this album, partnering with Afro-Brazilian superstars Grupo Cultural Olodum, masters of the heavily percussive sub-style of samba called Batuque or Batucada. The group’s drumming is featured on the opening song and first single, “The Obvious Child”. Brazilian singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento co-wrote “Spirit Voices” and contributed some vocals. Guest appearances were also made by mandolin- and “guitarra baiana” master Armandinho, another Bahia musician, and by Afro-Cuban drummer Francisco Aguabella, and Puerto Rican-born drummer Giovanni Hidalgo. Another collaborator was jazz percussionist and master of the berimbau, Naná Vasconcelos; jazz guitarist Rafael Rabelo also played on the album, along with many other Brazilian musicians.
The musical styles on The Rhythm of the Saints are, however, not uniformly Brazilian. US saxophonist Michael Brecker and other horn players contribute as session musicians (for example, on “Proof”), as well as American roots rock guitarist JJ Cale, Fabulous Thunderbirds vocalist Kim Wilson (contributing harmonica on “The Obvious Child”), R&B keyboards player Greg Phillinganes and jazz drummer Steve Gadd. Art rock guitarist and synth player Adrian Belew, who played on Graceland, is credited on “Spirit Voices”. There are also many backing vocals on The Rhythm of the Saints, such as “She Moves On”, a duet with Charlotte Mbango. Simon was also influenced by bikutsi for this album.
The album is characterized by impressionistic lyrics (referring to the Chernobyl incident in “Can’t Run But,” an Amazonian ayahuasca experience in “Spirit Voices,” and the state of the world in “The Cool, Cool River”), with slower tempos than Graceland and an atmospheric flow. Along with Latin rhythms, the prime influence on the album was West African and Central African music. Cameroonian jazz composer Andre Manga plays bass, and South African guitarist Ray Phiri, who also collaborated on Graceland, plays one song of the album, while famed trumpeter and worldbeat bandleader Hugh Masekela is credited with playing flugelhorn on one song.
Although drums for “The Obvious Child” were recorded live at Pelourinho Square in Salvador, Bahia, Simon recorded most of the rhythms for the tracks in Rio de Janeiro studios before returning to The Hit Factory in New York City to record guitar accompaniment and, later, the final arrangements. The Rhythm of the Saints marks Simon’s first collaboration with Cameroonian guitarist Vincent Nguini, a member of his band up until his death in December 2017. Nguini is credited with creating the music and guitar arrangements for “The Coast”, although Simon still wrote the lyrics. Nguini also arranged guitar for other songs, such as “She Moves On” and “The Cool, Cool River,” and he arranged the horns for “Proof.” Together, Simon and Nguini created the melodies, lyrics, and arrangements that changed the bare rhythm and guitar recordings into (due to Simon’s studio experience) the expertly-edited final product.
The Rhythm of the Saints peaked at #4 on the US album chart, while Graceland had peaked at #3, both among Simon’s most commercially successful albums. The album was also commercially successful across the Atlantic, reaching #1 on the UK album chart. However, with the exception of “The Obvious Child”, none of its singles charted or received substantial radio play (“Proof” and “Born at the Right Time” were released as well). “The Obvious Child” also failed to reach the US top 40, although it came in at #15 in the UK – his last major hit in the UK. In the end, the album was certified multi-Platinum.
Central Park concert
Simon and his fellow musicians performed live versions of many of the songs from the album at a free concert in Central Park, New York City on August 15, 1991, in front of an audience of around 50,000 people. The performance was recorded and later released as the album Paul Simon’s Concert in the Park. (by wikipedia)
Though he recorded the album’s prominent percussion tracks in Brazil, Paul Simon fashioned The Rhythm of the Saints as a deliberate follow-up to the artistic breakthrough and commercial comeback that was the South Africa-tinged Graceland. Several of the musicians who had appeared previously were back, along with some of the New York session players who had worked with Simon in the 1970s, and the overall sound was familiar to fans of Graceland. Further, Simon’s nonlinear lyrical approach was carried over: he continued to ruminate about love, aging, and the onslaught of modern life in disconnected phrases and images that created impressions rather than telling straightforward stories. But where Graceland had seamlessly merged its styles into an exuberant whole, The Rhythm of the Saints was less well digested. Those drum tracks never seemed integrated effectively into what had been dubbed over them; at the same time, they tended to lock the songs into musical patterns that reined them in from the kind of excitement the South African music on Graceland generated, making the melodies harder to grasp.
Nelson Mandela & Paul Simon
At the same time, Simon sang his lyrics in a less involved way, which sometimes made them seem like collections of random lines rather than the series of striking observations Graceland seemed to contain. No Paul Simon album could be lacking in craft or quality, and The Rhythm of the Saints was a typically tasteful effort. But this time around, Simon hadn’t quite succeeded in bringing the wide-ranging elements together; the album sold about half as many copies as Graceland (that is to say, a none-too-shabby two million), and that’s about right — where Graceland was an exotic adventure, The Rhythm of the Saints was more of an anthropology lesson. (by William Ruhlmann)
Paul Simon (vocals, guitar)
Accordion – Jimmy McDonald (4), C.J. Chenier (7), Joao Severo Da Silva (10)
Background Vocals – Briz (1, 4), Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Karen Bernód, Myrna Lynn Gomila, Kia Y. Jeffries (3), Florence Gnimagnon, Charlotte Mbango, Djana’d, Elolongue Mbango Catherine (4, 6, 7)
Bass – Bakithi Kumalo (3, 4, 7, 9), Andre Manga (4), Armand Sabal-Lecco (6, 7, 9, 10)
Bongos, Congas, Bata, Gourd – Dom Chacal (4, 5, 6, 7, 9)
Bongos – Anthony Carillo (9)
Chakeire – Ya Yo De La Nelson (4, 7, 8)
Chicote – Mazzola, Paulo Santos (2)
Congas, Drums, Bells, Percussion – Mingo Araújo (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
Congas, Bongos, Percussion – Sidinho (4, 5, 6, 7, 9)
Congas – Francisco Aguabella, Giovanni Hidalgo (9)
Cowbell – Wilson Das Neves (6)
Drums – Grupo Cultural Olodum (1), Steve Gadd (2, 4), Felix Sabal-Lecco (7)
Box Drum – Asante (8)
Electric Guitar – Georges Seba, Martin Atangana (4)
Euphonium – Dave Bargeron (5)
Flugelhorn – Hugh Masekela (5)
Guitar – J.J. Cale (2, 7), Rafael Rabello, Ringo Star (5), Ray Phiri (6), Armando Macedo, Kofi Electrik, Tommy Bilson-Ogoe (10)
Guitar, Bass, Clave – Vincent Nguini (3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
Guitar Synthesizer – Adrian Belew (9)
Harmonica – Kim Wilson (1)
Percussion – Uakti (2, 8, 10)
Additional Percussion – Jorginho, Marcalzinho, Wilson das Neves, Canegal, Beloba, Luna, Pedro Sorongo (5)
Percussion, Gourds, Voice, Berimbau, Triangle, Congas – Nana Vasconcelos (2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 10)
Saxophones – Charles Doherty, Jude Bethel (3), Alain Hatot (4), Michael Brecker (6), Charles Doherty (8)
Scraper – Pedro Sorongo (6)
Surdo – Gordinho (6)
Synthesizer – Michael Brecker (1, 3, 5, 8), Greg Phillinganes (3, 5, 8), Justin Tchounou (4)
Talking Drum – Remy Kabocka (2)
Trombone – Clifton Anderson (3, 8), Jacques Bolognesi (4)
Trumpets – Errol Ince, Clyde Mitchell (3, 8), Phillipe Slominski (4), Randy Brecker (5, 6)
Vocals – Milton Nascimento (9)
01. The Obvious Child (Simon) 4.10
02. Can’t Run But (Simon) 3.37
03. The Coast (Simon/Nguini) 5.05
04. Proof (Simon) 4.40
05. Further To Fly (Simon) 5.36
06. She Moves On (Simon) 5.04
07. Born At The Right Time (Simon) 3.48
08. The Cool, Cool River (Simon) 4.33
09. Spirit Voices (Simon/Nascimento) 3.56
10. The Rhythm Of The Saints (Simon) 4.21
11. Born At The Right Time (original acoustic demo) (Simon) 3.50
12. Thelma (outtake) (Simon) 4.15
13. The Coast (work-in-progress version) (Simon/Nguini) 5.14
14. Spirit Voices (work-in-progress version) (Simon/Nascimento) 3.50