Long Player: The album that made Diamond a music gem
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Sat, 31 Oct 2009
In the age of the single download, Jeff Harford rediscovers the album…
A Neil Diamond fan is a loyal creature. Under attack, it will hold its lovingly worn copy of Hot August Night high, shielding itself from the stinging rain of musical snobbery.
For every critic who accuses Diamond of padding out his canon with pretentious, overblown fluff, there’s a supporter who will point to the statistics that prove him to be one of soft rock’s most successful acts, perhaps failing to realise that the evidence supports both positions.
YouTube subscriber shutterbugk8 states pithily: Neil Diamond, musical genius, the Mozart of our time.
Again, the comparison arguably swings two ways.
Live double album Hot August Night (1972) marked Diamond’s coming of age as a performer. Recorded during a 10-date stint at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, it captured the moment the one-time-anonymous Brill Building songwriter became big-arena showman, confidently counting off his back catalogue of hits while toying with spontaneity.
Not for nothing was Diamond dubbed the Jewish Elvis. The album’s orchestral prologue built glorious tension before the core instruments made their entry, Vegas-style, kicking off a rousing rendition of Crunchy Granola Suite, with Diamond punctuating his vocals with a “Good Lord!” here and a “Dig!” there. It was spine-tingling stuff, this homage to a breakfast cereal.
Diamond flicked effortlessly between growling rocker and crooning balladeer, delivering astutely arranged readings of his quirky repertoire. The odd vocal glitch only added to the immediacy and trueness of the recording, which held the listener in thrall in the same way it did the audience in the arena and the tree people on the hill.
The top-drawer numbers were all there – Solitary Man; Cherry Cherry; Sweet Caroline; Red, Red Wine; Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon; and Cracklin Rosie among them. So were the clangers. Porcupine Pie, anyone?
But by the time Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show wound to its feverish climax, more than a few unbelievers had been converted.