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‘Stranger to Stranger’ review: Paul Simon mixes world beats, views

Paul Simon mixes electronic beats, Indian traditional instruments

Paul Simon mixes electronic beats, Indian traditional instruments and more on "Stranger to Stranger." Credit: Concord Records


BOTTOM LINE Bringing a unique mix of world beats to support his world views

It is a tribute to Paul Simon and his adventurous new album “Stranger to Stranger” (Concord) that often the only recognizable sound he offers is the sound of his voice.

Everything about the opener “The Werewolf” seems unfamiliar and menacing, aside from Simon, who punctuates verses about a world spiraling out of control with “The werewolf’s coming.” He calls on the gopichand, a twangy stringed instrument from India, as well as hand claps, catcalls and a slowed-down flamenco beat to build the angst — from a murdered Milwaukee man to, well, the world — and it’s nothing short of brilliant.

On “Wristband,” Simon twists the humorous story of a musician getting stopped by security outside his own show to attack the notion of privilege and fairness. It ends, in a mix of walking bass lines and skittering electronic beats from Italian artist Clap! Clap!, with an explanation of riots as coming from “kids that can’t afford the cool brand whose anger is a shorthand for ‘You’ll never get a wristband’ and if you don’t have a wristband then you can’t get through the door.”

The sonic inventiveness continues throughout “Stranger to Stranger,” culminating with “In a Parade,” a swirling combination of hospital equipment buzzes and layers of percussion, that re-creates the chaos of a visit to the emergency room for the album’s character “Street Angel.” The languid title track is a gorgeous love song, but, as with so many of the songs here, it’s injected with layers of meaning. When Simon makes excuses like “I’m just jittery — it’s just a way of dealing with my joy” in a setting so elegant and graceful, is he telling the truth? Does it really matter?

“Stranger to Stranger” shows Simon continuing to expertly take his eclectic musical influences and reassemble them into a sound that is all his own.

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