Various Artists A Solitary Man - The Early Songs of Neil Diamond Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Paints a picture that his tunes could be sung by anyone, in any style.

Andy Fyfe 2009

Neil Diamond is living, breathing hope to anyone that just by sticking around long enough you can become a living legend, a national treasure. Although he was briefly hip just as the 60s turned into the 70s – before denim shirts gave way to scarlet jumpsuits – it was a brave soul who dared express their love of Captain Sunshine beyond throwing a few ironic hands in the air as Sweet Caroline blasted away at their local version of Guilty Pleasures.

Diamond’s problem was that for every I’m A Believer or Holly Holy came the likes of self pity-fest I Am, I Said, anti-drug hokum The Pot Smoker’s Song or the simply dreadful Forever in Blue Jeans. Now, suddenly, it’s okay to like ‘the Jewish Elvis’, his rehabilitation into impolite society cemented by one immaculate Glastonbury Festival performance last summer.

But before the sequins and Song Sung Blue, Diamond made his living writing songs for others while struggling to make a name as a performer in his own right. From the opening Monkees track, the original TV mix version of Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow), which leaps out of the speakers, through Lulu, Deep Purple, Muscle Shoals pioneer Arthur Alexander, original Brit rocker Billy Fury, Jamaican rocksteady singer Tony Tribe and Motown legends The Four Tops (a version of Diamond’s other Monkees tune, I’m A Believer), it paints a clear picture that the Hebrew Hunk’s tunes could be sung by anyone, in any style, and still smell of Cracklin’ Rosies.

It wasn’t all great, as Sadina’s It Comes and Goes or Filipino brothers The Rocky Fellers’ We Got Love demonstrates, but the sheer breadth is astonishing. Deep Purple, for instance, turn Kentucky Woman into an early approximation of the charging rock they later perfected on Highway Star, complete with matching solos for Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord, while Northern Soul stalwart Jackie Edwards’ Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon may lack Urge Overkill’s debauched menace but is still uncomfortably predatory.

Sadly the version of the album’s title song is by BJ Cole rather than either Johnny Cash or Arthur Alexander, but the great soul man’s Glory Road is one of the album’s standout tracks. Alexander, the only man to be covered by both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in their formative recording years, called Diamond his favourite songwriter, and that is high enough praise to turn on anyone’s heartlight.

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