Released five years after Warner's last Paul Simon comp, the single-disc The Paul Simon Collection: On My Way, Don't Know Where I'm Goin', the double-disc The Essential Paul Simon is a full 17 tracks heftier than its predecessor and contains all but one of its 19 songs (MIA is the latter-day "Love," which only hardcore fans will recognize as from You're the One, and they're not quite the market for this set anyway). It's also slimmer than the 1993 box Paul Simon 1964/1993, which spanned three discs but also encompassed his '60s recordings with Art Garfunkel, plus a single the duo recorded as Tom & Jerry, along with selections from his solo debut, The Paul Simon Songbook -- it was ambitious, where this compilation is efficient, picking up after the parting of ways with Garfunkel and running straight through until 2006's Surprise. The sequencing isn't strictly chronological -- some songs are shuffled around for effect, with "Still Crazy After All These Years" closing the first, while "Take Me to the Mardi Gras" is cleverly followed by the zydeco stomp "That Was Your Mother" -- but it roughly divides into having the first disc devoted to the '70s and early '80s, the second devoted to Graceland and beyond. Some might argue that there's too heavy of a Graceland presence here -- a whopping six tracks, over half the album -- but it is his biggest album and functions as a nice transition between his better-known '70s hits and the more esoteric but frequently compelling work that he's done since. And, unlike The Paul Simon Collection, The Essential Paul Simon is designed to introduce fellow travelers to the interesting work he's done since Graceland, as the second disc emphasizes that quite greatly, and it does a good job of it, while also providing a good summary of his best-known (and much of his best) solo work.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2