Monday, September 25, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1053: Neil Diamond

After a long run of reviews inspired by some live shows I started this week off by getting back to basics with a randomly generated album out of the main library. Here it is!

Disc 1053 is…20 Golden Greats
Artist: Neil Diamond

Year of Release: 1978 but featuring music from 1968-1973

What’s up with the Cover? Neil strikes a majestic pose for he is…Neil.

How I Came To Know It: I’ve known Neil Diamond since I was a kid, but for many years never considered getting an album of his. Buying Neil Diamond just wasn’t done. Then I was at a party one year and my friend Spence’s girlfriend at the time took over the CD player. They were really into Neil Diamond at the time (I think they were obsessed with his schlock) and were playing this album. To my surprise, I found myself really liking it. Not long thereafter I went out and bought it for myself.

How It Stacks Up:  This is a greatest hits compilation, so it can’t stack up.

Ratings: Best ofs don’t get rated. That’s the rule.

Neil Diamond is a glorious unabashed lounge singing dork, but damn it if he isn’t the best time since AM radio. Paint that man’s name in sparkling diamond font, because he’s a star! If that introduction seemed a bit too enthusiastic than is warranted, that’s because part of enjoying Neil Diamond is embracing excess. If you don’t wax poetic you’re not really listening.

But for all the gentle fun I am poking, Diamond is a gifted singer and songwriter. His voice is a rich baritone that is part crooner, part rocker and more than a little gospel choir leader. It is a voice that is instantly recognizable, and even if you don’t like the song he’s singing, it is hard not to enjoy that irresistible tone.

As for songwriting, Diamond is at his best when he’s dropping sing-a-long anthems. His most famous, “Sweet Caroline” is so engaging people sing along to the horn flourish – “Sweet Caroline…buh buh buh!” Now that’s catchy.

Other standouts include “Holly Holy,” “Kentucky Woman” and “Cherry Cherry” but I don’t have to tell you any of this. Diamond’s songs are so intrinsically part of our shared pop culture it’s like it’s in our DNA. It isn’t a question of whether you know a Neil Diamond song, it’s a question of which one is your favourite.

For me, it is a tie between “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “I Am I Said”. “Cracklin’ Rosie” is a love song about a cheap bottle of wine, which Neil manages to make strangely heroic and even a little romantic. “Cracklin’ Rosie” is a celebration of those nights when you find yourself alone and decide to have one too many and maybe crank the tunes a little.

“Cracklin’ Rose you’re a store bought woman
But you make me sing like a guitar hummin’”

Sure the evening ends early with you sleeping on the couch at ten p.m., but it was a good time while it lasted, as long as you don’t make a habit of it.

Cracklin’ Rosie” is also one of my karaoke standards and while I can’t belt it out like Neil, I give it 100% every time, and with songs like this that’s usually enough. Side note, Shane MacGowan and the Popes do a killer version of this song on their 2002 album “The Rare Oul’ Stuff”.

My other favourite is (coincidentally) another fine song about being drunk and alone. “I Am I Said” isn’t another mellow time of dancing about your living room after a little pink Zinfandel. Rather it’s that time when you’re out of town on business (for Neil that is ‘touring’) and you find yourself drunk and alone in your hotel room. In Neil’s case, this is cause for engaging in a rambling monologue to a chair. Best bit…

“Did you ever read about a frog
Who dreamed of bein' a king
And then became one?
Well except for the names
And a few other changes
If you’re talking about me
The story is the same one.”

Yeah – except for all the details, it is the same story – testify, Neil! Just don’t call anyone from your room tonight. You’ll just regret it in the morning. The chair is audience enough for this one – oh, and the millions of people who have loved it since you penned the experience and set it to music.

For deep cuts, I go with “Walk on Water” which starts slow and folksy and becomes this revival, complete with handclaps, maracas, a full choir of folks and what I think is a ukulele. In a word – yeehaw!

When Neil tries to get serious he loses me a bit. I find songs like “And the Singer Sings His Song” and “Shilo” wade a bit too deep into the river of schlock for me to follow. Also, “20 Golden Greats” ended up being about six or seven more golden greats than I needed.

However, it was still a good time, and a guaranteed crowd pleaser at the end of a party, when most of the guests have gone home, and a few people are still chilling out and killing off any wine that’s already been opened. Someone is also probably barefoot at this point. Just remember once everyone leaves to thank Neil for the musical digestif, shut off the amp and say goodnight to the chair.

Best tracks: Sweet Caroline, Holly Holy, Cherry Cherry, Solitary Man, Kentucky Woman, Cracklin’ Rosie, Walk on Water, I Am I Said

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