Symphony From the Soul

An artist always has to create.

Despite announcing his retirement from touring (and, ostensibly, music) in 2018, Paul Simon returns with his first album of original work since 2016’s Stranger to Stranger.  Entitled Seven Psalms, the album, largely inspired by the Bible’s Book of Psalms, came to Simon in a dream and he has crafted a masterpiece which may serve as a fitting coda to his astonishing career.

Seven Psalms is unlike any album I’ve ever heard.  Heavily wrapped in spirituality, Simon encapsulates his entire career into a sweeping seven movement symphony as he intended the album to be listened to in one complete session.  This album is deep and will churn up emotions from the depths of your soul.  At times reflective, humorous, hopeful, somber, and philosophical, Simon skillfully blends complexity and simplicity as the complicated music is presented acoustically and primarily by guitar.  Indeed, Simon proves himself a highly underrated guitarist as he uses this instrument almost as if it were a living entity to set the mood and emotions of each movement.

The sonorous tolling of a bell kicks off the album’s first movement “The Lord” in which Simon reflects on the awesomeness and the beauty of God as He appears in everything such as being a “welcome meal for the poor” to “a terrible swift sword”.  Indeed, “The Lord’ drives the album as Simon uses it to transition into other movements on several occasions.  From there he ponders the highs and lows of love in “Love is Like a Braid”, injects some humor with the comically crabby “My Professional Opinion”, begs for “Your Forgiveness” in a plaintive number that generates some of the most vivid imagery I’ve ever heard, muses on the end of life and regrets in “Trail of Volcanoes”, has a philosophical conversation with a pair of hitchhikers in “The Sacred Harp”, and finally closes things with “Wait”.  One of the most powerful songs I’ve ever heard, Simon teams with his wife, Edie Brickell, where he sounds like a man on death’s door afraid to make that transition to the afterlife while Brickell is the angel warmly inviting Simon to Heaven.

At the age of 81, Paul Simon still has absolutely perfect pitch though, for the first time, I could hear a bit of age creeping at the edges of his voice.  Yet that age added a vital piece of seasoning to the album and added unbelievable strength to Simon’s musings and reflections.

Many critics have suggested this is Simon’s final album and it may very well be.  With his pursuit of the perfect sound, Simon often has put years into his albums to get them exactly as he envisions (he spent four years working on this album).  So, if this be the end, Simon has put an exclamation point on an amazing 60 year career with an album that might be the very best he’s ever written and will certainly rank as one the deepest albums ever composed.

A Melange of McGuigan


He’s been thrilling crowds since 2002.  Now the master maestro of Omaha, Billy McGuigan, is set to make his 500th performance at the Omaha Community Playhouse and it will happen during his latest run of Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist.

Billy McGuigan was ready to rock tonight and, believe me, that’s really saying something.  Attacking the music with a thunderous energy that never let up and actually increased to something cataclysmic, McGuigan and his Pop Rock Orchestra delivered a fiercely awesome 2+ hour concert that had the audience in the palm of their hands from the first note to the last clap.

If you have never seen Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist before (and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?) what you get is a show that offers classic rock songs done with a big band flair.  Even if you have seen this show, you really need to see this incarnation as Billy and company have completely revamped the show with a new set, lights, set up, and an almost completely new set list.  Truthfully, I rank this as one of McGuigan’s best performances to date and I have seen plenty of them over the years.

Few connect with an audience the way McGuigan can with his charming wit and storytelling abilities and when you add in his phenomenal musical abilities, you’re really in for something special.

Versatile seems almost too small a word for a guy who makes everything he plays sound like his own creation.  McGuigan hit the ground running with ELO’s “Evil Woman” and ran through rockers such as The Doors’ “Touch Me” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music” with his pulse pounding tenor and killed it in a guitar duel with Omaha’s personal Pete Townshend, Max Meyer, in the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love”.

McGuigan also slowed it down a notch with the Beatles’ beautiful “Yesterday” backed by the string trio of Melissa Holtmeier, Axelle Verboon, and Mindy Zimmerman.  And tears were a flowing when he teamed up with Tara Vaughan to perform an epic take on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

Speaking of Tara Vaughan, the mistress of the keyboards also got a fair chance to shine throughout the night with her one of a kind tickling of the ivories and that dreamy alto serenading the crowd with Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking”, the Supremes’ “Stop!  In the Name of Love”, and Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love”.

Featured performances were supplied by Natalie Thomas who practically had the audience purring with a throaty, sultry interpretation of Ike and Tina Turner’s version of “Proud Mary” that was further bolstered with the almighty tenor of Ryan McGuigan; Steve Gomez made his singing debut with The Champs’ “Tequila” which featured his singular bass playing and a stellar solo from Stan Harper on saxophone; Matthew McGuigan took a moment in the sun with The Temptations’ “My Girl”; Omaha’s legendary jazz musician, Doyle Tipler, soloed on his trademark trumpet as only he could; Patrick Peters and Willie Karpf solidly rounded out the horns while the Doctor, Tomm Roland, kept the beat going on his drums.

The volume of the microphones could have used some slight boosting on a couple of occasions, but the only real disappointment of the night was that it had to end at all.

If you haven’t had a chance to see a show with Billy McGuigan and his band, this is the one to see.  You’ll feel like a million bucks before the night is through and if you strike fast you may be able to snatch up a ticket to see that magical 500th performance on August 17.  But any night of this run is going to be smoking good.

Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist runs through August 18 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $42 and can be obtained at, by calling 402-553-0800, or visiting the Box Office.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Omaha Community Playhouse.