Simon and Halee Reunited Again Make Musical and Sonic Magic

Reunited with his old friend, producer and engineer Roy Halee, Paul Simon delivers an imaginative and vital record—his most fully realized since Graceland., though its musical complexity and mood more closely resemble Rhythm of the Saints”

Halee and Simon implement here cut and paste production techniques similar to ones used on both Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints”, which Simon describes in the fascinating liner notes.

Rhythm tracks were assembled and built from collaborative recording sessions with other musicians and groups of musicians including one with a Flamenco group that provided hand claps and heels on wooden floors as well as “phoned in” ones from the Italian electronic dance music producer Clap! Clap! (Digi G’Alessio).

Simon strikes a bemused, but satisfied observational tone throughout, sometimes talking as much as singing, beginning on the opener, "The Werewolf", which commences with a “twang” produced by the Gopichand from India.

The instrument spoke “the werewolf” when Simon played it and from that inspiration came the song. The song’s rhythm track began as a slowed down Flamenco clapping and talking drum track.

While the subject is mortality it’s hardly morbid. In fact it’s a chuckler.

Next up is “Wristband”, a song about privilege that takes its narrative from the movie “Birdman” and every performer’s nightmare of being locked out of his or her own concert venue. It was one of the last songs written for the album and it includes these, you might say prescient lyrics:
– The riots started slowly
– With the homeless and the lowly
– Then they spread into the heartland
– Towns that never get a wristband
– Kids that can’t afford the cool brand – Whose anger is a shorthand
– For you’ll never get a wristband

The album ends with the ethereal “Insomniac’s Lullaby”, which was the initial spark that led to the album’s creation. It demonstrates that Simon’s melodic muse still speaks clearly to him. To realize the song Simon and Halee visited in February of 2013, New Jersey’s Montclair State University where resided the musical visionary/composer Harry Partch’s unique musical instruments, capable of realizing the forty-three tones per octave (as opposed to the standard twelve) Partch heard.

The instruments, with fanciful names, some of which are Cloud Chamber Bowls, Sonic Canons, Marimba Eroica, Kithara and Chromelodeon are heard on the record and help give it a frequent dream-state sensibility.

In the summer of 2014 Simon visited a small town in central Brazil to meet the healer John of God, which Simon describes in the notes as being an “intense experience” and one which left him the feeling of having been cleansed of something that was troubling him.

“Proof of Love”, written about the experience, references The Impressions’ “Amen” in its chorus. Those familiar with Roy Halee’s production work will sense his subtle sonic presence in the mix of instruments and effects. I was reminded of “Save the Life of the Child” from Bookends.

Though Simon’s notes reveal some of his inspirations as well as some of the more mundane aspects of the collaborative creative process, the end result is an album that’s as otherworldly and mysterious as it is immediately accessible.

As with Graceland, the musical and especially the sonic results are far greater and more cohesive than the sum of the parts. Hardly a musical second passes before something new and interesting floats past your ears in the transparent and coherent mix.

This is an album that will draw you in and keep you immersed throughout, so strongly and subtly drawn are the sonic pictures.

Of course the recording was high resolution digital. Halee and engineer Andy Smith make the most of its clarified possibilities, helped by the production’s desired distant feel.

Simon and label Concord went all out on the packaging, which includes superb graphics as well as a richly textured jacket material. The sound on vinyl is superb. I haven’t heard a download but it’s nice to put this latest Paul Simon album on the shelf next to the twelve previous ones.

Simon and Halee are still at the top of their games. I just wish the download card had included a high resolution file instead of just MP3.

Simon, Garfunkel and Halee a "few" years ago:

Music Direct Buy It Now

Kylene's picture

For me Stranger to Stranger is equally to the milestone Graceland. I think it is great on a totally different way but i love them both.

Pressing is quiet and sound superb!

Thanks Michael for the review

thomoz's picture

You forgot to named top the esteemed Chuck Close!!!

Michael Fremer's picture
Correct. Sorry about that.... everything about this record is great. Not even close.
Kirby's picture

Ordered! Thanks...

StonedBeatles1's picture

Being ridiculously hard to please with new releases (vintage as well as newer artists) I find this album to be among the very best Paul Simon ever recorded sounding contemporary, fresh and classic all at once. Truly a surprise (no pun intended). The best new music since Sweden's Dungen's latest release.

theboogeydown's picture

Do we have any reason to believe that Hi Rez files cost anyone more to "produce" and distribute than any other digital file (other than the bandwidth used for delivery)?

audiof001's picture

Simon's previous album 'So Beautiful Or So What' came with 24/96 high res download. It's a shame the new one does not. I've played that album far more, both the vinyl and the downloads, than I would have given mp3 downloads with that album. It's a winner too.

cdvinyl's picture

Michael is spot on. The sound, music and rhythms are fantastic. The lyrics though on Street Angel, Stranger to Stranger and Cool Papa Bell were to me disjointed.

Kirby's picture

Stranger To Stranger arrived today and it's everything Michael said it was. Great album, maybe one of the best of 2016 in my opinion and definitely his best since Graceland.Not a bad song in the bunch. At 74 Paul's still got it and shows no signs of slowing down. Definitely 10/10

Minn Mark's picture

I got my copy at the local Barnes-Noble brick/mortar store. Special edition on orange vinyl. This is a Concord release, and while the pressing is nice and flat and the groove is quiet, I find the recording, in my system, to be excessive in the high end. For example, on Street Angel, when Paul sings these words it really generates a lot of sizzle-too much for my liking. I would suspect mistracking, but my copies of SBoSW and the original release Graceland sound fantastic. The over-the-top treble sizzle on this album ruins it for me. YMMV.


cundare's picture

After being disappointed by the often-incomprehensible "10 Years of R2D4," I'd come close to swearing off Stereophile's record reviews. Then I run across this superbly written piece, which tells me everything I need to know about this album without wasting my time with faux human-interest filler. Just the facts, ma'am.

So thanks again for being (along with Art) one of the finest writers in your field. (Although you'd better double-check the title of that "Bookends" track.)

Btw, I hope you enjoyed the red Odeon "Revolver" -- I'm now thousands of miles away from NY, but still follow your writing closely.

wylddave's picture

Yes, I completely agree with your review. The vinyl is absorbing and allows the percussion instruments to be effectively emphasized and lead the drive. The deluxe edition of the CD is well worth hearing for the bonus tracks.It'd be nice for those cuts to be released on vinyl as well.

williamsims's picture

But I think Bob Johnston appears in the photo, not the estimable Mr Halee, whom you interviewed in TAS and who, if memory serves (though not always reliably!), secured VIP seating at one of the Concerts in the. Park. Cheers, Bill

AnalogJ's picture

I have the orange vinyl edition from B&N. The midrange is a hair muddy while the top end seems rolled off. Tonally, it sounds fairly full, but a bit dry and, well, digital. Bring back analog recording, please.

fstanke's picture

Mikey et al., when you've had the chance to hear both, I would be interested in hearing which release you prefer and why.