A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
January 6, 2006
It’s a strange state of affairs when the latest Neil Diamond album is much cooler than the new Neil Young.
But it’s true. Mr. Velvet Gloves and Spit has made his strongest, his toughest album in probably 35 years.
Some credit producer Rick Rubin for the aesthetic success of Diamond’s album, 12 Songs. “He did it for Johnny Cash, now he’s done it with Neil Diamond, blah blah blah …” I say hogwash. First of all hiring Rubin as producer is no guarantee of a great “comeback” album. Anyone remember Sutras by Donovan a few years ago? Cosmic yawn.
Rubin’s stripped down production, his slave-master demand for new Diamond songs and his insistence that Neil do his own guitar tracks certainly helped create the somber but tasteful sonic atmosphere of 12 songs. But I believe Diamond is an old lion who needed to roar.
Perhaps because of artistic boondoggles like the Jonathan Livingston Seagull soundtrack and outright drek like “Turn on Your Heartlight,” people forget what a great songwriter that the old Brill Building vet Diamond truly is.
This is the man responsible for the most underrated boozy love song of all time, “Love on the Rocks,” the weird mysticism of “Soolaimon,” the kid-fear saga of “Shilo.” This is the guy who screamed at his own furniture in “I Am, I Said.”
And now he’s the guy who can make you feel the ache of love in “Oh Mary” and “Evermore.” There’s so many fine tunes here. “Man of God” finds still glowing embers from the fire that was “Brother Love‘s Traveling salvation Show.” “Delirious Love” is sweet delirious pop. And “Hell Yeah” is the best rewrite of “My Way” I’ve ever heard.
Consumer note: Before you plop this CD in your computer, make sure your copy doesn’t have the dreaded XCP “anti-piracy” software, which Microsoft classified as “spy ware” that can render your box vulnerable to viruses. My copy is possessed by this evil demon, so I only listen to it on my DVD player and in my car. Sony has stopped making Cds with XCP.
Holiday Clearance Section: It’s time for holiday leftovers at Terrell’s Tune-up. Here’s some quick takes on a whole mess of CDs released in 2005 that I somehow never got around to reviewing. Some have been in the musical refrigerator for months.
* Magic Time by Van Morrison. To make an obvious play on the title, Morrison indeed still has the magic. His peculiar style of sweet soul music infused by his peculiar brand of Celtic mysticism sound like they drifted out of some ancient cave. There’s a melancholy feel on this record. “Just Like Greta” finds Morrison wistfully fantasizing about disappearing from public site, (just like Garbo), while “They Sold me Out,” which almost sounds like some lost song by The Impressions, is a classic Morrison diatribe against music industry weasels. But I doubt if he’s really going away. On one song, an upbeat blues with honking harmonica, Van promises to “Keep Mediocrity at Bay.”
* Front Parlour Ballads by Richard Thompson. If you’re craving some of those classic crazed Thompson guitar solos, this mostly acoustic record isn’t for you. Some of the songs here, such as the bouncy opening cut “Let it Blow” will practically leave you screaming, “Come on Richard, plug in!” But indeed, the record lives up to its title. I love the electric Thompson and I hope this album is just a diversion. Still there’s some strange, twisted, bittersweet gems here such as the squeeze-box colored “Miss Patsy” (Is that a mandolin he’s playing or a lute?) whose quaint melody is a weird contrast to the lyrics, which deal with a terrorist in prison. “The Boys of Mutton Street,” with its catch sing-along melody is about a street gang. “When We Were Boys at School” deals with a bitter victim of bullies who dreams of rising to power to inflict vengeance. “Should I Betray,” the taunting song of a blackmailer, is perhaps the creepiest of all.
* Long Gone by Clothesline Revival. Taking old field recordings of American blues, gospel and hillbilly singers and mutating them with electronica backdrops isn’t a new idea. Moby did it several years ago with his album Play. But the idea still sounds fresh on this, the second Clothesline Revival CD. Led by California guitarist Conrad Praetzel, Clothesline makes these old scratchy recordings come to life. Praetzel for the most part doesn’t distort or overwhelm these ancient melodies. Instead he enhances them. Some of the tracks, such as “Strange Things Happening,“ (based on a tune sung by Charles Haffer, Jr. in a Clarksdale, Miss. funeral home 1942) and “I’m Worried about My Soul” (sung by Lillie Knox in south Carolina in 1937) are downright haunting. And “Down in Arkansas,” sung by Almeda Riddle in 1959, actually rocks.
* Punk Trampoline by The Stillettos. The Stillettos was a New York punk band that started out before “punk rock” even had a name. Led by a high-pitched shouter who called herself Elda Stilletto -- whose voice contained traces of Yoko Ono as well as Betty Boop -- the group allegedly included Debbie Harry and Christ Stein of Blondie, Cheetah Chrome of The Deadboys and Rick (“Rock ‘n’ Roll, Hoochie Koo”) Derringer. This is a collection of recordings spanning the ‘70s. My favorites are the ones like “Feedback Rock” and “Pink Stilettos” that feature a crazy sax. There‘s even a weird punk/jazz tune called “Feedback Jazz.”
Terrell’s Sound World is back! Freeform weirdo radio returns to Santa Fe Public Radio after a three-week break, 10 p.m. this Sunday, on KSFR 90.7 FM.
And don’t miss The Santa Fe Opry 10 p.m. Friday on KSFR. I'll play a lengthy House of Freaks segment around the 11th Hour.
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