STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
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Publicity for Neil Diamond’s 2015 concert tour claims he’s had a whopping 16 albums that have cracked various Top 10 charts over his career.
It’s true all right, but sometimes a little hard to believe.
When it comes to the album format, committing to Diamond for something that isn’t a best-of compilation is a gamble. Sometimes you hit the jackpot with stone cold classics, like 1967’s “Just For You” or the landmark live album “Hot August Night” (A deluxe edition of the latter was released in 2012). Occasionally the roulette wheel lands on stuff that’s pretty good, like 2005’s adventure with Rick Rubin, “12 Songs,” and “The Jazz Singer.” However, much of the time, discerning Diamond fans get saddled with sifting through a lot of slick, sickly sentimental, over-the-top kitsch (or in the case of “Up on the Roof,” “The Movie Album” and “Dreams,” all remakes) to find something worth a repeat listen. Yeah, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” won a Grammy, a Golden Globe and sold a lot of records, but when was the last time you listened to it?
For Diamond’s “Melody Road,” his first release with Capitol Records, all-stars Don Was and Bob Clearmountain were called upon to produce and mix, respectively. The vintage keyboard sounds and flashes of what my wife calls “the fun Neil Diamond” — which generally means the period from 1966-1972, and includes the lean-mean-songwriting-machine Brill Building period that gave The Monkees two of their biggest hits — make for an entertaining listen.
The genuine golden nuggets from this one are “First Time;” “Nothing but a Heartache;” “In Better Days;” and “Alone at the Ball” (At first, it’s sounds like he’s singing “alone at the bar,” which would’ve been a better lyric). Honorable mentions go to “Seongah (pronounced son-gah) and Jimmy,” for showcasing Diamond’s storytelling chops, and “Something Blue” for the honest, heartfelt lyrics.
The “Melody Road” liner notes booklet is cool because of the glimpse it offers into Diamond’s creative process, namely a collage of handwritten lyrics in various stages of development, and even the guitar chords for each song.
A writer recently asked the singer how much getting remarried three years ago affected the tone of the album. “I’m not intentionally writing songs that are romantic or up or enthusiastic. I’m just trying to write down on paper whatever comes out of me. This is what came out of me,” Diamond answered during a media conference call. “There’s a lot of romance and there’s a lot of enthusiasm and there’s a lot of hope for the future in this album. This is important and there’s no question that my own personal life and my own personal experience is what gives rise to this.
There’s some pain involved in some of these songs, but that’s part of life too.”