THE 1990s

ALBUMS FROM THE VAULT

The fact that Neil Diamond only released two albums of original material throughout the whole of the nineties is staggering, and one could be forgiven in thinking that Neil Diamond was bathing in, and living off past glories. Many of the albums of the nineties were hits compilations, themed albums of covers, and a couple of Christmas albums, and yet, Diamond still enjoyed impressive album sales, where his mid-nineties effort, the country flavoured Tennessee Moon, went Gold.

 

The two Christmas albums equally sold well. The reason for Diamond’s still impressive album sales were his legendary “Live” shows, and proved when it came to marketing himself, Neil Diamond was in a league of his own, he seemed to have a knack for perfect timing. The albums of the nineties, whilst being mainly cover albums, still contained that quality that has garnered fans across the world, and they still possessed music on a higher level than most other artists’ albums, mainly due to the high production values, and presentation, where a new Neil Diamond release was always eagerly anticipated, due to the standing Neil had created for himself. It appeared that whilst many other senior artists’ sales were falling away, Neil Diamond continued to enjoy impressive album sales, which proved that the music buying public wanted to continue their love affair with the enduring music icon. - Dave Radstock

‘Mountains Of Love’ follows and is a lively narrative on helping reduce world poverty, and when Neil sings, you want to believe in his feed the world message, and follow him right to the top of the peak.

The following track is a fabulous cover of  Ace Of Base’s (a Swedish pop group) song ‘Don’t Turn Around’ where the aforementioned group seemed to rush through the song, Diamond let’s it breathe, much like he did with his own song ‘Red Red Wine’, after the initial reggae version by Tony Tribe.

The next track is possibly one of the best tracks on the album, and also one of the most under-rated songs Neil Diamond had written at that time.

‘Someone Who Believes In You’ is a brilliant song, where Neil talks about the trappings of success, whilst at the same time how it means nothing without having someone beside you willing you on.

So you really want a job in the circus                                                   

Paint your face and make the people smile                                           

Hey clown, come on down                                                                      

You’ve been too long walking that high-wire                                        

When you’re falling, you’ll be calling too

Be calling out to someone who believes in you                             

Someone who’s there when nobody needs you                                  

Calling out to someone who... believes in you                                                         

 

In its own way it is reminiscent of Leo Sayer’s classic, ‘The Show Must Go On’.

The next song, ‘When You Miss Your Love’ really touched a nerve with me at the time, my father had recently passed away in September 1991, just after the album’s release, the lyrics of the song, whilst obviously talking about a man and woman’s relationship, cut through, as my father’s passing was still raw.

Heartache’s gonna find you 

No matter where you go                        

When you miss the one you love                                                         

Sad songs are all you’re gonna hear on the radio                               

When you miss the one you love                                                           

Grey skies are there to remind you                                                     

The blues are never behind you                                                           

When you miss your love....

It is a beautiful, but equally disturbing song given the connection I made to it.

LOVESCAPE - 1991

I remember when I first saw the image of this album cover when it was released, and I thought it was a rather strange creation. It shows Neil Diamond, expressionless, wearing a suit of a non-descript colour, with this indescribable pattern seeping over him. I can only think that the person responsible for this cover was trying to be “arty”, I will say it has a “Picassoesque” look about it.

 

Given that we are attracted to most things we invest in, it almost put me off buying the album. It gave the impression no care had gone into it, but we are talking about a Neil Diamond album, and the saving grace surely had to be the musical content within, and thankfully, and with immense relief, Neil Diamond turned out a fine album.

The album opens with ‘If There Were No Dreams’ an absolutely beautiful song talking about the mystery of love, and everything it entails. It has a very mellow and dreamlike melody which draws you in, the song is one of those classic ballads Neil Diamond has a habit of pulling out of the bag.

If there were no dreams

And there were no dreamers

Then how could I dream you up?

You’re still a mystery to me

The way that we love

The life that we’re leading

I don’t want to give you up 

Whatever I have to do, I’ll do

Thankfully ‘Fortune Of The Night’ lifted the mood, a soulful, funky rhythm, where one could imagine themselves in a nightclub really grooving to this number. It has a wonderful Rumba/Salsa feel, almost the same feel as ‘Only You’ from the ‘On The Way To the Sky’ album a decade earlier.

Neil then covers ‘One Hand, One Heart’ from West Side Story, and refuels the ballad with a warm message of unification and peace. The song was written by the marvellous Stephen Sondheim, and legendary Leonard Bernstein, a sure fire success.

The lilting and bruised heart duet, ‘Hooked On the Memory Of You’ performed with Kim Carnes is a standout, Neil had featured this song as a solo on his ‘Best Years Of Our Lives’ album, but Kim Carnes, of ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ fame, adds her wonderful smoky vocals to give the song a new feel and depth, both voices complimenting each other perfectly.

The following two tracks, ‘Wish Everything Was Alright’ and ‘The Way’ were typical Neil Diamond ballads, the former talking of a relationship in trouble, and the latter speaking of how the protagonist is looking for a way to get through to his lover, and back into her affections.

‘Sweet L.A. Days’ is one of those occasional self indulgent songs Neil Diamond comes up with now and again. It speaks of returning home after being on the road, and how he has missed his life back home, it is a catchy song, full of sunshine, and a song one can’t help singing along to.

‘All I Really Need Is You’ is one of those Diamond gems, he hits just the right emotion with this, where the messages are delivered sincerely, and with a deft vocal touch, never letting it drift into overt schmaltz. It is honest, telling of an enduring love, and how the man feels his lady has made his life complete, the lyrics are eloquent, reflecting the immense love the man has for his lady.

After all these years                                                                

After all these tears between us                                                   

Still I couldn’t find

Someone half as right as you                                 

And each time I stop to think                                                              

What it is I really need                                                                         

Here’s what I conclude                                                                       

All I really need is you

   

A beautiful and wholly heart-warming song.

‘Lonely Lady #17’ is a catchy, tongue in cheek song about a man who has spent his life wooing and dating many ladies, until he finds the right one. One could be forgiven in believing that you were on a tropical island as you listen to it, and you could well be, as the song was co-written by the “Sunshine Brothers” Vince Charles and King Errisson. It is loaded with steel drums and all, and a feel of the coast of Jamaica, a wholly feel good song which has you up and dancing, or doing a conga.

‘I Feel You’ is the penultimate track on the album, and is a wistful story of yearning, of a man missing his lover and wishing to be with her.

When the stars go down                                                                  

And nobody else is around                                                                    

I feel you, I feel you

As I look in your eyes                                                                            

Suddenly I realise,                                                                                 

How you heal me, you heal me...

The final track ‘Common Ground’ talks of trying to fix a relationship and rediscovering those things the lovers had in common.

‘Lovescape’ frames Neil Diamond’s strong vocals well, with themes he is a master of interpreting, love and all the nuances connected to it, but it isn’t solely an album of ballads, Diamond does well with Lovescape’s material where there are a handful of memorable moments for long-time fans, and the more casual listener.

"RECORDED UNDER THE SPELL OF A TENNESSEE MOON" - ND

TENNESSEE MOON - 1996

This was a change of direction for Neil Diamond, where he headed to Nashville to record an album in the home of Country Music, something Neil had said he always had a yearning for. This album wasn’t a typical “Yee ha” kind of Country, but more of the light rock style that had become popular during the nineties.

For this project Neil hired some of the luminaries of the country scene at the time, Raul Malo of the Mavericks, Hal Ketchum, Waylon Jennings, Buffy Lawson, the legendary Chet Atkins, and Waylon Jennings.

It was said his trip to Nashville was an escape after his divorce from long standing wife Marcia, Neil didn’t even tell Columbia records about his idea, he just wanted to find his song-writing groove again.

“I was just four or five months out of my marriage, and I needed something to throw myself into. I had no idea whether it was a good idea or a bad idea commercially, but I’ve always thought of Nashville as a special place for writers, where I wanted to get in touch with my writing again.”

Diamond met with a group of the top songwriters in country music and invited them in to sit around and make music. Diamond states, "I honestly didn’t know what Country (music) was doing at this time, it harked back to my time in

“Tin Pan Alley” where you worked with people between three and five in the afternoon and see what you could come up with in order to cut a demo and sell

a record."

‘Tennessee Moon’ was an ambitious project, where Neil wanted to bridge the gap between Pop and Country.

The songs on the album were a mix of up-tempo country style toe tappers, to heartbreak songs, but not done in the old country style that was stereotypical of those kind of country songs, in fact these were not really country songs at all, more like modern pop songs with a country flavour.

There was only one song on the album written solely by Neil Diamond, that was a reworking of his classic hit ‘Kentucky Woman’, every other song was a collaboration with Country music’s finest writers, and they provided some fabulous songs between them...

The album opens with the title track, 'Tennessee Moon', and talks of how Neil was disillusioned with his lot at that time, and how he needed to escape, and

of his difficulties in doing the very thing he was born to do...

Hollywood don’t do what it once could do

I used to wake up 

And write me a song before noon

So I packed my dusty bags one night

Grabbed an old guitar

And I caught a red-eye flight

The chorus explains how Neil believes he will find what he believes he has

been missing... and of his inspirations.

In search of a dream underneath

The Tennessee Moon

I fell in love with an old Hank Williams tune

Makes me I wonder 

Is it the same moon Hank stood under....

The album was filled with a good mix of heartfelt ballads and up-tempo

toe-tappers. 

Gold Don’t Rust’, ‘Shame’, ‘A Matter Of Love’, ‘Can Anybody Hear Me’.

All of these were fabulously catchy tunes - 

Gold don't rust

Love don't lie

I'll be true 'til the day that I die

Trust in me, you will find

Baby, you're the gold in this heart of mine

And that gold will shine For a long, long time

The standard of the writing was spectacular, particularly given the calibre

of writers available to Neil.

The heart-breakers were exactly that, where the standout was ‘Like You Do’ a song that rips right through you emotionally -

 

Love never doubts, or suffers or cries

Love shows no fear, or tells no lies

And love would never leave me in the dark

No love never breaks my heart

Like you do, like you do...

This was a tour de force of a song, written by Sandy Knox and Steve Rosen, and performed with Rosemary Butler, it conveyed the bitterness that can exist in a broken relationship -

 

Oh, and I have known times

When love seems unsure

But when love is unkind 

It is not love anymore...

Tied by love to you... you were the keeper of my dreams...

A surprising song on the album was a collaboration by Neil with his own son Jesse, the song was entitled ‘Everybody’ a beautiful song telling of how we all need someone to turn to, or lean on in times of need.

One of my favourites from the album was ‘Open Wide These Prison Doors’ which appeared to be a direct narrative on Neil’s recently ended marriage -

Open wide these prison doors
Take these chains
From 'round my heart
Make believe that I'm no more
Pay no mind when I depart
Need to find another place
Where love is not just tossed away
If you really care for me
Open wide these prison doors
And set me free​

All in all, the album was a fabulous collection of songs, the promotional literature was quick to recognise the quality of the album where it stated the songs already sounded like classics. The poster also promoted Neil’s upcoming tour to celebrate the album.

It appeared Neil had shed the lull and lethargy that had gripped him for a while, and reignited his enthusiasm and motivation to write heartfelt and quality songs again.

The reception the project received was heartwarming, Diamond experienced his most enthusiastic reviews since his ‘Beautiful Noise’ album, it sold well and reached #3 on Billboard’s country chart, and #14 on Billboard’s Hot 200.  Of course it didn’t hurt sales that Neil was joined by country legends, Waylon Jennings, and Chet Atkins, on ‘One Good Love’ and ‘Blue Highway’ respectively. Neil Diamond had achieved his ambition of recording a good country album, whilst also shaking off the cobwebs that had appeared to hold him back for a significant while, he also recorded a TV special at the famed Ryman Auditorium as part of the project.

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