Hello Big Man is Carly Simon's best album in years. After the primal-scream therapy of Come Upstairs and the somewhat sterile sidestep into standards with Torch, Simon has returned to the sort of beautiful, folk-based singing and songwriting that originally made the world fall in love with her. In fact, two of the album's best songs seem like older-but-wiser versions of her first two hits. "It Happens Everyday" exposes the flip side of "Anticipation"; while the earlier song said, "Savor this moment, 'cause these are the good old days," the new one adds the rueful recognition that when the romance ends, the nasty parting shot may be what sticks in the memory. The album's title song is an ironic reversal of "That's the Way I Always Heard It Should Be." That song pictured a woman dragging her heels on the way to the altar, dreading the thought of replicating her parents' loveless marriage; "Hello Big Man," on the other hand, is a portrait of a traditional, lifelong marriage that worked.
While those and several other cuts celebrate the familiar virtues of Simon, others break new musical ground for her. "Menemsha" uses gamelan sounds, children's chanting and African rhythms to make an exotic Rousseauian painting of love life on Martha's Vineyard. Two tracks were recorded with the ace reggae rhythm section of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare; of these, her rendition of Bob Marley's "Is This Love?" is particularly terrific, especially the way Simon's light, floating soprano mixes with Sly and Robbie's exquisite funk foundation. I wish she'd resisted the urge to include "Floundering," a joke-reggae song about a self-help groupie, and "You Know What to Do" is a terribly calculated stab at trendy synth-pop. In general, though, it seems that it's once again worth paying attention to Carly Simon.