Various artists

Forever Neil Diamond (Shout Factory)

Neil Diamond (who in his later years has come to resemble a Soho clothing retailer) has always been an unlikely lightning rod, bringing forth scorn from rockers and adoration from housewives and AOR program directors. Sadly, most detractors associate Diamond with his '70s and '80s dross period: shit like "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and "Forever in Blue Jeans." Yet Diamond was once capable of a higher level of schlock. In the '60s, he wrote a bevy of bouncy acoustic rock and pop that made him a fairly significant Tin Pan Alley tunesmith. The Monkees didn't change a thing when they made a hit out of "I'm a Believer," and folks such as the Box Tops and Four Tops knew a good melody when they heard one.

This collection assembles 14 Diamond originals (from his less kitschy years, thankfully) done by an amazing variety of artists. There's nothing new here, save for a recent (and rowdy) version of "Solitary Man" by Crooked Fingers. You can hear Urge Overkill's deliciously seedy take on "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, but here, it's followed by Deep Purple's hilarious heavy metal disembowelment of "Kentucky Woman," and later, you get Shane McGowan's drunken slur through "Cracklin' Rosie." Even more intriguing are soul singers Bobby Womack and Jr. Walker who improve wedding singer fare ("Sweet Caroline" and the groan-inspiring "Holly Holy") with some tasty urban swing. The fact that such a diverse group can make hay out of songs some have spent a lifetime ridiculing is testament to Diamond's artistic identity...at least before he was in The Jazz Singer.

 
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