First I have to say that I am NOT a Neil Diamond worshipper; in fact I worship no one except probably Secretariat but that's a love affair that goes way way back to 1973. |
I don't love everything Neil has ever recorded and I have been disappointed with some of his performances over the years, so I just want to put all of this in perspective with what I am about to say.
No one had 'lower' expectations for "Dreams" than I did at the beginning. First of all, I wasn't crazy about quite a few of the songs Neil chose to cover and some I didn't even know. I was 'scrunching' my face up at the thought of Neil singing "Alone Again, Midnight Train to Georgia, A Song For You, Yesterday, Let It Be Me" because they have either been 'covered to death' or I never liked them from the original artists or I just couldn't imagine Neil singing it. I wasn't at all familiar with "Feels Like Home, Losing You and Don't Forget Me" and didn't think I knew "Love Song" (now I realize that I did know the Leon Russell song but not by title); I was on the fence and very curious about "Desperado, Hallelujah, Blackbird" and yet another 'version' of "I'm A Believer." So, to put it mildly, I was less than lukewarm about what was coming 'down the Diamond pike'.
When the sample snippets were available, I couldn't tell too much from a 30 second 'teaser' so I reserved opinion on those. But, we were given full access to 4 songs before the album was released. And ...
I. Was. Blown. Away. But, I still hadn't heard the other 9 songs in full dress array until this past Saturday night when, shortly before midnight, I poured myself a glass of red red wine, I turned out all the lights except for one candle which illuminated the space I was in, and I leaned back in my chair to relax with Neil's voice putting me in my own 'dreamy' euphoria.
As I listened to each song, I was amazed at my own reaction to them. I was deeply moved, emotionally, by all of them. I heard lyrics I never bothered to care about before, I heard musical arrangements that were beyond stunningly crisp and understated while being fully supportive of the 'vocalist', but more than anything else, I heard a voice commanding and compelling me to listen - closely, intently - to erase every other preconceived notion and thought from my mind and to enter into this very personal and private space and remain there for as long as I dared allow myself to be broken open on this emotional ride that touched my own life's experiences in so many ways. I was 'afraid' to stay too long, but I gave myself the gift of memories and tears to surface and I embraced it all from this 'voice' that made me feel safe and warm and familiar.
Every single song on "Dreams" has come alive for me for maybe the very first time in my life. Oh yes, I had listened to most of the 'tried and true' ones many times over the years, but I never really 'heard' what they were saying ... until this 'voice' stopped me in my tracks. And then I really, really listened and felt what these songs mean; the unmistakable story that is woven in each of these 14 individual particles that, when etched together, form a glorious mosaic into the soul's songbook of life ... yes, these 'are' "Songs of Life..."
Neil Diamond, in my life's songbook, has become a master interpreter of the lyric; only Sinatra before him stands slightly above Neil in this area, but I would have no hesitation putting them on equal footing warbling their own stages of life musically.
"Dreams" is a stunning standout for me on every single level. My own sister paid Neil one of the highest compliments possible yesterday without even realizing it. She hadn't heard any songs from "Dreams" yet and I asked her to let me play one song for her before she had to leave. I asked her to select the song she wanted to listen to and, immediately, she said "Hallelujah." I was just a little apprehensive because I know that she loves the version by k.d. lang, and Neil's version is quite different. I closed all the lights in the room and told her to just sit back and listen as Neil sang. When the song was finished, her first and only comment was:
"Neil sounds just as good as he did when he sang "Suzanne."
At that moment, my heart whispered to only me just one word ...