Paul Simon: Four Songs from “Stranger To Stranger”

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I’ve never been a fan of folk music. I’ve always felt like the John Belushi character in “Animal House,” Bluto, when he encounters a cheesy folk singer on the stairs and pulls the acoustic guitar out of his hands and smashes it. However, I’ve always loved Bob Dylan. His first four albums stand amongst my favorite. And, I must admit I’ve always loved old-style acoustic blues like Robert Johnson. Of course Dylan’s music was always infused with the blues whether the folkies want to admit or not. Yes, I do love the acoustic guitar. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Dylan is Pete Seeger. I can’t stand that fuckin’ guy. I don’t care one wit about his politics, I just can’t stand his music. Springsteen did a whole (terrible) album dedicated to Seeger’s music and Seeger came out and said he didn’t like it. Douche bag, your table is ready…

Somewhere in the middle of all that lies Simon & Garfunkel. I was never crazy about Simon & Garfunkel but I didn’t loathe them like I do say, Joan Baez. Yes, I will admit Art Garfunkel could sing like the angels, but their music together always left me cold. They do have a few good tunes (see my theory of music post). Paul Simon’s solo music however I always enjoyed. It was acoustic based, but there was an element of “world music” which I guess means exotic rhythms and percussion. I consider the term “world music” to be nebulous. “Me and Julio Down By the School Yard,” “Cecilia” and even “Mother And Child Reunion” had elements of other culture’s music in them. Of course his huge break through on this front was when he went all in on the “world music” thing on the “Graceland” album. I still love listening to that a one. I think he took it a little too far on “Rhythm Of The Saints” which sounds like someone dropping a tray of flatware in the kitchen of a Mexican restaurant with a transistor radio playing in the background.

A few years ago I went on a “binge listen” of all of Simon’s classic albums from his first solo record up to “Graceland.” After “Graceland” I felt his music was kind of hit or miss. I mean, what was that “Capeman” thing? I did think “You’re the One” was wildly under-rated. Then out of nowhere in 2011 Simon put out the brilliant “So Beautiful Or So What” record. I was blown away at the brilliance of that entire album. I even convinced the Rock Chick to listen to it once… only once… and she sat through the whole thing without holding up her hand and saying, “Uh, Ken, put the Cult back on,” which I considered a near validation of the music.

Now five year’s later Simon is on the cusp of putting out his next album, “Stranger to Stranger.” He purportedly “labored” over this record for five years. That always makes me nervous. I mean, the early Stones and Beatles records were all hammered out in an afternoon. “The Long Run” by the Eagles (an album I do like) took years to make. Sometimes it’s better to just knock this shit out quickly. He apparently asked some Italian dance/electronica guy named, gasp, Clap!Clap! to help him on this album much like when he brought in Brian Eno on “Surprise.” I don’t even know what an Italian dance/electronica person does. Producer? Does he play something? It all left me pretty suspect.

Simon has put out three songs thus far from “Stranger to Stranger.” On the bonus version of the disc, he includes a song that has already been released, a duet he did with Dion, “New York Is My Home.” If you want to hear two titans harmonize, go out and buy that song alone. It’s a great song about a great city. I didn’t buy the bonus edition as I already owned “New York Is My Home” and other than a tune named “Pete and Horace” the bonus stuff was all live versions from “The Prairie Home Companion,” …gads, man.

“Wristband” was the first single. It has Paul Simon’s signature sense of humor. It’s the story of a rock star getting locked out of his own concert backstage and not being able to get back in because he doesn’t have a wristband. Simon says it’s not autobiographical, but God I wish it was. That Simon sense of humor is what always divided his work with Garfunkel and his solo stuff for  me. I like to laugh. I wasn’t crazy about “Wristband” the first time I heard it but it has really grown on me. Repeated listens bring out the percussive elements and the song really starts to open up.

I really liked the other two songs almost immediately. “Werewolf” is an ominous, cacophony of a song. “The werewolf’s coming, you better stock up on water…” There is so much going on in this song I don’t even know how to describe it. There’s even an old school horror movie organ towards the end of the song… I think even Warren Zevon of “Werewolves of London” fame would be proud.

“Cool Papa Bell” was the stand out track for me, so far. Again, it’s a virtual pot of gumbo worth of sounds. I think I hear a fucking tuba in the background. I can’t stop smiling when I hear this song. “Every day I’m here I’m grateful…” Since I met the Rock Chick, I think I can actually agree with that sentiment. There was a time when I wouldn’t have agreed, but thankfully those days are far behind me. Like Satchel Paige said long ago, “Don’t look back there might be somebody gaining on you…”

I’m not ready to make a recommendation on this album as of yet, in terms of purchase. I will say, “New York Is My Home” is a must have. I will be writing a full album review when the album comes in June, so stay tuned.

Be grateful you’re here, every day. Cheers!

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