Neil (Leslie) Diamond William Bender - Essay

William Bender

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In the past three years, Diamond has turned out enough hit songs (among them: Kentucky Woman and Sweet Caroline) to keep the current champion, Burt Bacharach, watchful and busy. But where Bacharach plods as a performer, Diamond dances.

In person, Diamond has a naturalness and relaxed cool that are fine foils for rhythms as infectious as a Mardi Gras parade. His voice still has a touch of the crooner, but it can turn soulful. His songs delve ingeniously into hard and soft rock, blues, gospel, even country rock—a range of styles that Bacharach does not even try to match. (p. 46)

[His album Tap Root Manuscript] is ample proof of Diamond's versatility. Side I contains Cracklin' Rosie (a reference to the joys of loosening up with a sparkling pink wine), a Top Ten single for two months last fall, as well as [his remake of Bob Russell's and Bobby Scott's] He Ain't Heavy … He's My Brother, currently the No. 22 single.

Side 2 is devoted entirely to The African Trilogy, which grew out of Diamond's interest in gospel music and his desire to explore its rhythmic roots. Using African beats—more so-phisticated than African melodies—Diamond grandly started out to depict the three principal stages in a man's life: birth, maturity, death. Though the trilogy finally grew to six parts. Diamond liked the original title and kept it.

Trilogy or six-pack, it is a stunning example of pop cross-breeding: Soolaimon, for example, is a pulsating toe-tapper that Diamond terraces forcefully with one climax after another. In contrast are [the] … tender lines from a children's chorus called Childsong that opens the work…. (p. 47)

William Bender, "Tin Pan Tailor," in Time, Vol. 97, No. 2, January 11, 1971, pp. 46-7.