Neil Diamond

Love Songs [2002 MCA]

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Neil Diamond didn't stay long on MCA's Uni label, but it was a time when recording artists were expected to release at least two LPs a year, and he pumped out eight albums between 1969 and 1972, sometimes by covering songs written by others, giving MCA a substantial catalog it has used in years since to create many compilations. In 1981, there was one called Love Songs that never made the charts but achieved perennial sales that eventually resulted in a gold record certification. In time for Valentine's Day 2002, MCA revamped the album as a midline-priced CD. Four tracks have been jettisoned and replaced by two of the singer's biggest Uni hits, "Cracklin' Rosie" and "Sweet Caroline," and live versions of two songs from before the Uni era that achieved renewed success in the '80s and '90s, "Red, Red Wine" (revived for a number one hit by UB40 in 1988) and "Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon" (featured in a recording by Urge Overkill on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack in 1994). And a 14th track, "If I Never Knew Your Name" from the 1969 album Brother Love's Traveling Show, has been added. The revised, expended lineup strengthens the album, giving it greater variety. Diamond is more convincing when he is singing his own compositions than when he is interpreting those of others. His version of Tom Paxton's "The Last Thing on My Mind" sounds like a run-through, and Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" is given an odd string coda. But Diamond really throws himself into a minor song of his own like "Modern Day Version of Love." So, perhaps the collection would be better if it consisted entirely of originals. Still, the album remains a good choice of Valentine's Day present for the Neil Diamond fan.

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