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Paul Simon 

With Bakithi Khumalo. Thursday, June 29, at the Plain Dealer Pavilion.

For all the hoopla surrounding Paul Simon's new Surprise -- the singer-songwriter's first solo release since 2000's stripped-down, somewhat disappointing You're the One -- you'd think the new disc was some sort of Rick Rubin reclamation project (à la Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond) or maybe a star-studded Santana affair (think Supernatural).

Truth is, Simon did solicit some help from producer (or, as the album's liner notes put it, "sonic landscaper") Brian Eno, who brought along his bag of quasi-electronic tricks to color Simon's folk-pop structures and sweet, emotionally complex voice; together, they crafted Simon's most satisfying release since Graceland. Simon recently turned 64, to considerably less fanfare than Paul McCartney received; accordingly, much of Surprise deals lyrically with aging and mortality -- hardly new themes for the singer, but he pulls it off more artfully and incisively than he has in a long time, using his trademark combination of humor and dolor. These new tunes should be as much of a joy to hear live as any from Simon's illustrious songbook, including the handful of Simon & Garfunkel gems he's sure to break out.

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