50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
“Wasn’t there a 50th Anniversary box set recapping Neil Diamond’s music released just last year?” you ask. Yep, and it even had the same blue jean cover art, further confusing this updated edition with the previous one that honored Diamond’s five-decade career, appropriately with 50 tunes. A year later, that collection has ballooned, doubling to six discs with a whopping 115 tracks, 12 previously unreleased. If you thought you owned the ultimate Neil Diamond overview, it’s time to reconsider.
Some contend that Diamond never improved on his early Bang label output, including such timeless staples as “Solitary Man,” “I’m A Believer,” “Kentucky Woman” and “Red, Red Wine,” songs he included in even his last concerts. That short but sweet period of 1966-’67 is dispatched in the first half of disc one, after which it enters the “Cracklin’ Rosie”/”Sweet Caroline” hit-filled MCA years where Diamond shifted into an overall glossier sound, which he never entirely abandoned for the remainder of his recordings.
After that we’re into the Columbia stint, a label he stuck with for the majority of his recording life. Starting in 1973, this period was highlighted early on by the Robbie Robertson-produced Beautiful Noise, a connection that fortuitously landed Diamond at the Band’s Last Waltz. He has churned out a dizzying amount of albums since, employing his dramatic, instantly recognizable gravelly baritone in service of folk, Americana, country, singer-songwriter, Great American Songbook classics and plenty of slick adult contemporary pop.
Despite inconsistent material and glitzy, often stilted production, Diamond always sounds invested. It’s all here, the musical highs and lows, complete with a 50-page hardcover book featuring an extensive interview and rare photos, a handful of demos and a platter of rarities. It delivers what, considering Diamond’s recent retirement, seems to be the last word on the extensive career of this American icon.