Stranger To Stranger

Paul Simon

It is apparent that Paul Simon is still exploring sound experimentation on Stranger To Stranger, his 13th solo album. And you have to give Art Garfunkel's on-again, off-again partner credit for continuing to push boundaries, even at the age of 74. still, the various clicks and scratches from the custom-made instruments created by Harry Patch, the wonderful backing vocals from the Golden Gate Quartet, Bobby McFerrin and Keith Montie, and a litany of wonderful musicians playing on these 11 tracks, doesn't necessarily mean the album is without flaws.

Snapping percussion from Italian electronic artist Clap! Clap! sets the stage for the opening song "The Werewolf." I had hopes that "The Clock," an all-too-brief instrumental built around ticking clock, might morph into something more, but it fell short. We've heard songs like "Street Angel," "The Riverbank" and "Cool Papa Bell" before from Simon, loosely rapping over strong percussion, very much like "Love Me Like A Rock" or "You Can Call Me Al." It's as if Paul Simon is smiling to himself at how clever he can manage a rhyme - which certainly he has always been able to do.

Redemption comes slightly with the title track, with its undulant synth and snapping rim shots. Simon is actually singing on this one, his voice sounding as good as it ever has. Trickling wood sounds flip in and out here, but they are supported by the best lyrics on Stranger To Stranger. This is Paul Simon at his best. "Proof Of Love" suffers only from too much percussion wonderfulness, but Simon sings well and the heavy guitar turns throughout push it along. A love song to wife Edie Brickell, "In The Garden Of Edie," features a nice taste of Simon's still excellent acoustic guitar prowess. It's a pretty and tender moment on the record.

The upright bass on the wry "Insomniac's Lullaby" flows under Simon's vocal and acoustic, but the atmospheric sounds overstay their welcome long after the singer gets his point across. I wish I could report that Stranger To Stranger didn't leave me wanting, but it did. Considering this is Paul Simon delivering on this odd, somewhat flat collection, I'm truly surprised at how unfulfilled I feel.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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