Friday, July 22, 2022

Paul Simon 18: Stranger To Stranger

For most of his post-Garfunkel career, Paul Simon has painstakingly created songs with the mildest suggestion of a rhythm as touchpoints. In his old age, with the ease and advancements of home recording, he doesn’t have to travel to other countries and observe other cultures for inspiration. He still could, of course; he just doesn’t have to.
Stranger To Stranger sounds like it was assembled on a computer, and we don’t mean that in a bad way. The sound is still fresh and pure, like thanks to the assistance of “his old partner Roy Halee”, which is how the credit actually reads. Many of the tracks involve multiple players and exotic instruments, but it still remains very much a solitary vision.
The first sound we hear is an Indian string instrument that the liner notes tells us sounded like “The Werewolf” to the auteur’s ears, so he wrote a song around it about doom and death. Sound effects abound, and the track is taken over by a gothic horror movie pipe organ by the end, along with more howls. “Wristband” is a very clever song that retains its humor past several listens, and manages to extend the idea of exclusive entry past its premise. “The Clock” is an instrumental built around a simple pulse, with some chimes, and is over too quickly. More complex rhythms and textures drive “Street Angel”, while a waltz of sorts propels the lilting title track. As predicted two tracks earlier, “In A Parade” finds the street angel in a hospital being diagnosed for mental disorders, with beats to match.
The engaging “Proof Of Love” is very reminiscent of his early ‘90s work, and apparently the noted Brazilian influence is why. “In The Garden Of Edie”—again, clever—is another instrumental that isn’t long enough. “The Riverbank” continues the musing on death, but over a mildly funky groove that isn’t down in the slightest. “Cool Papa Bell” would be mostly a tribute to a Negro League baseball legend, but is dominated by a tuba and spends more time reflecting on a certain twelve-letter epithet. The closing “Insomniac’s Lullaby” adds sound effects and Harry Partch instruments to a lovely guitar piece and meditation on sleeplessness. It’s more of a prayer than a lullaby, but it’s effective.
Stranger To Stranger is another winner in a career that’s slowly winding down. From time to time he leans on one of his spoken character voices rather than trying to find a melody, but the solo guitar pieces have us wishing he would do an instrumental album of same. He should also be commended for the album’s digestible length, at just over 37 minutes. (That said, a deluxe edition included a few extra tracks, starting with the exquisitely recorded “Horace And Pete”, the theme song for a Louis C.K. web series, which should have been on the main album. The oldie “Duncan” and “Wristband” come from a well-received performance on A Prairie Home Companion. “Guitar Piece 3” is a spooky interlude, while “New York Is My Home” is a collaboration with Dion DiMucci, also featured in the aforementioned web series.)

Paul Simon Stranger To Stranger (2016)—

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