Neil Diamond – The Very Best Of Neil Diamond – Columbia /Legacy Recordings 88691 90360 2, 78:48 [12/6/2011] ****:
(Neil Diamond – vocals; guitar; and many others)
If everything that is old becomes new again is a true axiom, then its proof is Neil Diamond. He rose to prominence as a singer and songwriter in New York’s Brill Building in the ‘60s. With a Buddy Holly-esque rockabilly acoustic guitar and emotional baritone voice, Diamond’s career ebbed and flowed over the next five decades. However, the highlights were memorable contributions to the American music scene. Songs like “Solitary Man’, “America”, “Sweet Caroline” and Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” were transcendental and found their way into the popular culture.
Diamond was an electrifying performer (often referred to as the “Jewish Elvis”) with dramatic staging and arrangements. His live album, Hot Summer Night elevated him to stardom. He appeared at The Band’s Last Waltz, Kennedy Center Honors and was inducted recently (2011) into the Rock And Fame Roll Hall Of Fame. Various artists like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, The Monkees, Cliff Richards and Urge Overkill (among many) have covered his songs. His music has become part of the narrative in movies like Saving Silverman, and “America” became a theme of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
The Very Best Of Neil Diamond is a copious testament to an important songwriter and performer. All of the stages of this lasting catalogue are represented. The Brill Building selections maintain their resonance and craftwork. “Kentucky Woman” and “Cherry Cherry” have the appealing rock and roll acoustic guitar and voice dynamic. Produced by the iconic duo of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich (who contribute backup vocals), Diamond’s voice is soulful and assured. Those hit singles for Bang Records are timeless. “Solitary Man” is catchy with horn accents and western voice-cracking. Original renditions of songs associated with other artists are included. This version of “Red, Red Wine” demonstrates a slower “twangy” swagger. Oddly, this tune was a staple of ska/Jamaican music (UB 40, Tony Tribe). “I’m A Believer” (which helped launch the pseudo-band The Monkees) is a finger-snapping gem with a low register walking piano line. Even those who never heard of Neil Diamond, are familiar with “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
Later in the sixties and seventies, Diamond became a major recording artist. No song is associated with him more than “Sweet Caroline”. His mature vocals are wrapped up in lush strings, horns and soulful chorus. Now an institution, this song is played at a variety of sporting events (in particular Boston Red Sox games). Diamond has a natural affinity for gospel. “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” (from the album of the same name) is powerful and rhythmic. More relaxed, but still deeply moving is “Holly Holy”. The lead vocals play off the organ riffs well and the pounding chorus is uplifting.
Another surge in popularity was dominated by romantic material including “Forever In Blue Jeans” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” (a duet with Barbra Streisand). Selections from the critically panned, but popular “Jazz Singer” include “Love On The Rocks”, “Hello Again” and the over the top glitzy anthem, “America”. Regardless of style, Diamond can sell it. Still active, two songs with producer Rick Rubin, “Pretty Amazing Grace” (from 12 Songs) and “Hell Yeah ”(from Diamond’s first Number 1 album on Billboard…in 2008!) have songwriting vitality, and the voice is still agile.
The Very Best Of Neil Diamond will thrill the faithful, convert new fans and ponder the question…what took the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame so long?
TrackList: Forever In Blue Jeans; Beautiful Noise; Love On The Rocks; Cherry Cherry; I Am…I Said; Sweet Caroline; Cracklin’ Rosie; Play Me; I’m A Believer; Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon; Holly Holy; Solitary Man; Song Sung Blue; You Don’t Bring Me Flowers; Hello Again; Red, Red Wine; If You Know What I Mean; Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show; Pretty Amazing Grace; Kentucky Woman; Shilo; America; Hell Yeah
A Texas singer-songwriter’s legend lives on with this journey of personal discovery and anecdotal cleverness.