Love him or hate him, the legend continues

Love him or hate him, the legend continues

‘There are two kinds of people in the world,” theorized Bill Murray in the 1991 film What About Bob? “Those who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t.” Slowly but surely, the latter group is coming around.

Still going strong at 68, Neil Diamond tours constantly and turns out a new album every few years – no small feat for a singer-songwriter whose first hit single, Solitary Man, came out way back in 1966. Nobody has ever been able to accurately define Diamond’s unique musical stylings – was he rock, folk, country or schmaltzy pop? – but he’s still managed to sell more than 125 million records worldwide.

So uncool he’s now cool, the Grammy-winning icon revisits his greatest musical triumph in the concert special Neil Diamond – Hot August Night/NYC (tonight, CBS at 8 p.m.). Going to a Neil Diamond show would cost you upward of $100 – and that’s for the cheap seats; seeing him for free in a TV concert might be the best deal you’ll get this summer.

There are, of course, a few differences this time. The original Hot August Night was a two-disc live album recorded at a sold-out concert at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre in August of 1972.

Backed by solid session players and a full gospel choir, the performance captured Diamond at his vocal peak and bestowed new life to songs such as Cherry, Cherry; Holly Holy and, of course, Sweet Caroline. Hot August Night was a phenomenal bestseller and held the No. 1 position on U.S. Billboard charts for more than six months.

The new TV concert is culled from four shows staged last year at Madison Square Garden, and it’s remarkable to watch how little Diamond has changed as a live performer. Feeding off the capacity crowd’s energy, he runs through his greatest hits, and even the casual pop-music fan will be surprised by how many of the songs ring familiar. By the time he gets to Sweet Caroline, everyone in the audience is singing along.

On an equally nostalgic note, the special follows Diamond on a personal trip to the Brooklyn neighbourhood where he grew up. The message seems to be you can go home again, if you’re Neil Diamond.

And he’s still one of the shrewdest cats in the business. The TV special is, in fact, a condensed version of a new Diamond concert DVD scheduled to hit Wal-mart stores and other retail outlets today. The DVD release includes the full version of the Madison Square Garden show and an accompanying CD with bonus tracks. You can love Neil Diamond or hate him, but the legend continues.

Also tuneful tonight: Live at the Rehearsal Hall (Star!, 9 p.m.) features a memorable performance by Ottawa-born singer Kathleen Edwards, whose intensely personal style seem well suited to the intimate setting.

Edwards delivers soulful renditions of songs from her debut album, including Six O’Clock News and Hockey Skates. She sounds even stronger on Back to Me, her biggest radio hit to date. Like Sarah McLachlan and Alanis Morissette before her, Edwards is a homegrown chanteuse to be taken seriously.

In the musical vein this weekend, Spectacle: Elvis Costello with… (Saturday, Bravo! at 8 p.m.) rebroadcasts the episode with Bill Clinton in the guest chair.

It’s a pretty fine chat, all told. Putting aside any world issues, Clinton talks candidly and at length about the recording artists that influenced him as a young man, and a politician. The list includes Elvis, The Beatles and Nina Simone. Unfortunately, Clinton does not deign to play his saxophone with Costello and the house band. A former president has to maintain some sense of decorum, you know.

Lastly, Rockabilly 514 (Sunday, Bravo! at 8 p.m.) is a smart documentary exploring the subculture of rockabilly music in Montreal. Directors Patricia Chica and Mike Wafer spent close to three years visiting underground clubs and meeting the people keeping the rebellious fifties sound alive.

For most of the film’s interview subjects – loner hepcats with leather jackets, slick hair and sideburns, swingin’ chicks in pedal-pushers and bobby socks – rockabilly is a way of life. No matter what you think of the music, you have to admire that crazy passion, daddy-o.

Check local listings.

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