Being raised in a home that loved music, I was exposed to a lot of different sounds in my early years before I started forging my own path as a music fan. During the early years of my life, there was no artist more prevalent than Neil Diamond. There is no way I could complete this album journey without at least one selection from Neil, or I would have to answer to my Mom. As such, I have selected what I consider to be his most interesting and compelling album project, “Tap Root Manuscript”, released in late 1970.
For the current day music fan, most may not fully appreciate what a successful, diverse, and occasionally hard-edged performer Neil Diamond was in his early days. There is much more to him than being the artist of choice at Fenway Park with “Sweet Caroline”, or his schmaltzy ballads with Barbara Streisand. It was fantastic to rediscover this album, one that I heard dozens of times in my youngest days.
Side one opens with “Cracklin’ Rosie”, one of his most recognizable singles, and the biggest hit from this album. I enjoyed every song that followed on the first side, a stand-alone collection of songs to include “Free Life”, “Coldwater Morning”, “Done Too Soon”, and an interesting cover of the Hollies’ classic “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.
As much as I enjoyed each song on side one, the real prize here is side two. Way ahead of his time, and ahead of artists like Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel, Diamond incorporates a suite of African melodies and rhythms into a 19-minute collection of songs that stands out as a complete piece. Like side one, I really enjoyed side two, and it was truly a walk down memory lane hearing the opener (and closer) “Childsong”, wrapped around “I Am The Lion”, “Madrigal”, “Soolaimon”, “Missa” and the impactful “African Trilogy”. This really is an impressive composition from Neil Diamond; a much higher quality of performance than today’s cynics would ever realize. It was also remarkable to me, as I listened to this second side, how easily I could recall they lyrics and music to songs I haven’t heard in almost 50 years.
So, Mom, thank you for introducing me to this music once upon a time… and thanks for inspiring me to bring it back into my canon of music a half-century later.