Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 559
Diamond's latest album, Tap Root Manuscript, is a half step at being Artistic.
Side One is the usual—a couple of dynamite singles and a couple of not-so-hot singles. "Cracklin Rosie," which made it to number one nationally, is excellent Neil Diamond. Named after the wine of the same name … Rosie's a good chick. Diamond isn't afraid to throw in a little early-Sixties schmaltz. He has thoroughly bypassed, or ignored "rock"—progressive or otherwise. He's chosen to go ahead with straight pop. But, two things set him apart from, say, Bobby Vee. One is that he has a really knockout voice—once it might have been called a "strong baritone." And two, he's deeply involved with the music he writes.
"He Ain't Heavy … He's My Brother," one of the only songs Diamond has recorded that he didn't write, is a good example of the straight-out-soul that Neil Diamond can sing. "Free Life" is another good cut, although it hasn't made it on Top-40. "Done Too Soon" is one of the duds. Reminiscent of Paul Simon's "A Simple Desultory Phillipic," it's just a rhyming list of famous, groovy people who were ahead of their time—done too soon.
Side Two is the Artistry, open to question. This is The African Trilogy (a folk ballet). It's a varied and ambitious work….
[The music is] certainly far less pretentious than its introduction. The worst of it has been identified as: "wimoweh" off-key, the "Missa Luba" by Doc Severinsen, or the sound track to Elephant Walk. In its better parts, though, it's quite charming—children's chorus, interpretations of African music and the like. The only trouble is, I haven't any idea who would want to listen to it. Certainly not the audience he has. No one interested in African ballet. Freaks leave the room when it's on….
Neil Diamond Gold, on the other hand, is probably his best album…. [This] record is all his best songs, from early and late, with something added. Gold is recorded live and he comes across much better on this record than he does on his singles….
The version of "Kentucky Woman" he does is the best one I've ever heard. In fact, all his get-it-on songs, "Thank the Lord For the Nightime," "Sweet Caroline," "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" sound better for being reduced to a kind of whoop and holler presentation. It's not the kind of record you'd want to play all the time. Neil Diamond is not a singer of great depth, nor is his music many-faceted. But, frequently it just hits the spot.
The slow stuff on Gold is very pretty: "And the Singer Sings His Songs" and "Solitary Man" have the straightforward approach of country music. It's unabashed sentiment and you have to be willing to meet the singer halfway. Sometimes, his excesses are too much. "Cherry Cherry" is unconvincing emotion and he murders "Both Sides Now." But, those are exceptions….
Neil Diamond is a talented song writer and an excellent singer, but he is limited. I can understand his wanting to go past Top-40 writing, but, by overreaching himself, as he does on African Trilogy, he'll keep himself in Top-40. Whatever his moves. I hope he keeps writing singles. They're among the best there are.
Alec Dubro, in a review of "Gold" and "Tap Root Manuscript," in Rolling Stone, Issue 79, April 1, 1971, p. 47.
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