"Because you cannot walk with the holy, if you're just a halfway decent man / I don't pretend that I'm a mastermind with a genius marketing plan / I'm trying to tap into some wisdom, even a little drop will do / I want to rid my heart of envy and cleanse my soul of rage before I'm through"—from "Wartime Prayers"

Paul Simon is one of those artists, like U2, whose music may be familiar to anyone who has a history with Christian music. Never listened to a Simon and Garfunkel record, or any of Simon's celebrated solo releases? Okay. But what about "Mrs. Robinson," a vintage Simon folk ditty once recorded by Charlie Peacock? Or "Bridge Over Troubled Water," another classic that has practically become a gospel standard, having been recorded by everyone from Michael W. Smith to Johnny Cash.

What's remarkable is that "Bridge" never actually mentions the name of Jesus Christ—a curious trait for a gospel song. Some, of course, will contend that it isn't a gospel song; rather, it's a hymn to vague spirituality that doesn't offend anyone because it doesn't actually say anything. Then again, others will argue that the song is a prime example of the transcendent quality that makes Simon's music so enduring and universally appealing—it's not afraid to wrestle with big questions of faith and religion, even when Simon doesn't necessarily know all the answers.

That's never been as true as it is on Simon's latest disc, Surprise, which indeed lives up to its title. Simon isn't necessarily doing anything new here—he sings in his gentle everyman voice and plucks away at his acoustic guitar—but this time there's a slight change of scenery; Simon's just doing his thing, but he's doing it out in front of vast, electronic ...

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