Diamond’s ‘Bang Years’ warm and personable

Neil Diamond
The Bang Years 1966-1968
Columbia/Legacy (88697 85331 2)
★★★★

By Gillian G. Gaar

Neil Diamond began his career in music as a songwriter, not a singer. But a fortuitous meeting with legendary Brill Building songwriter Ellie Greenwich eventually led Diamond to pursue singing as well, and this CD covers his early efforts for the Bang Records label.

The collection is a nice mix of Diamond’s own material (“Solitary Man,” his first Top 40 hit, and “Cherry Cherry,” his first Top 10 hit) and covers, including “Monday, Monday,” “La Bamba,” and the Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich composition “Hanky Panky.” It’s also fun to hear Diamond’s own take on songs that were popularized by others, like “I’m A Believer” (a hit for The Monkees) and especially “Red Red Wine,” here far more melancholy than UB40’s more upbeat hit version. In another treat, the recordings are all presented in mono.

Diamond’s voice has such warmth and poignancy, you wonder why he hadn’t considered singing earlier. He’s just as personable in the liner notes he’s written for this album, talking about the difficulties of his early years with humor and a charming self-deprecation. Diamond fans will certainly welcome the chance to fill in some holes in their collections with “The Bang Years.”

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