Wednesday, 11 May 2016

"Play Me: The Complete Uni Studio Recordings…Plus!" by NEIL DIAMOND (2002 MCA/Universal 3CD Set – Erick Labson Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

This 3CD Set has the album "Tap Root Manuscript" released November 1970

"...She Would Ache For Love...And Get Only Stones..." 

Including 6 whole LPs issued between 1968 and 1972, a rare B-side and 7 live cuts relevant to the time period – there’s a ton of stuff on the Neil Diamond retrospective "Play Me: The Complete Uni Studio Recordings..." 

In order to get a grip on this Universal 3CD motherlode – I’ve broken it down into disc-by-disc details. Here goes...

USA and UK released May 2003 - "Play Me: The Complete Uni Studio Recordings…Plus!" by NEIL DIAMOND on MCA/Universal 088 112 824 2 (Barcode 008811282424) plays out as follows (all songs written by Diamond unless otherwise noted):

Disc 1 (79:56 minutes):
His first Uni Records LP "Velvet Gloves And Spit" was released in two versions at two different times - so I’ve shown how to sequence either variant (7/1 = Track 7, Disc 1 etc): 

"Velvet Gloves And Spit" – released October 1968 LP in the USA on Uni Records 73030
1. Sunday Sun (7/1)
2. A Modern Day Version Of Love (2/1)
3. Honey-Drippin’ Times (3/1)
4. The Pot Smoker’s Song (4/1)
5. Brooklyn Roads (5/1)
6. Two-Bit Manchild (1/1)
7. Holiday Inn Blues (8/1)
8. Practically Newborn (9/1)
9. Knackelflerg (10/1)
10. Merry-Go-Round (11/1)

"Velvet Gloves And Spit" – the May 1970 US reissue LP on Uni Records 73030 (Different Sleeve with repositioned tracks including an additional re-recording of “Shilo”)
1. Two-Bit Manchild (1/1)
2. A Modern Day Version Of Love (2/1)
3. Honey-Drippin’ Times (3/1)
4. The Pot Smoker’s Song (4/1)
5. Brooklyn Roads (5/1)
6. Shilo (6/1)
7. Sunday Sun (7/1)
8. Holiday Inn Blues (8/1)
9. Practically Newborn (9/1)
10. Knackelflerg (10/1)
11. Merry-Go-Round (11/1)

12. Bread Old Woman (6 A.M. Insanity) – non-album B-side to the 1968 US 45 for "Two-Bit Manchild" on Uni 55075

13. Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show
14. Dig In
15. River Runs, New Grown Plums
16. Juliet
17. Long Gone
18. And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind
19. Glory Road
20. Deep In The Morning
21. If I Knew Your Name
22. Memphis Streets
23. You’re So Sweet Houseflies Keep Hangin’ ‘Round Your Face
24. Hurtin’ You Don’t Come Easy
Tracks 13 to 24 on Disc 1 are the first pressing of the album “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” – May 1969 LP on Uni Records 73047. However, it was reissued in September 1969 with the hit “Sweet Caroline” added on as the last track on Side 2 (the album also renamed and re-sleeved as “Sweet Caroline”). 

25. Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good)
Track 25 is the A-side of a USA 7” single on Uni Records 55136 (“Dig In” was its B-side). Also on the “Sweet Caroline” LP – see Tracks 13 to 24 above

26. Everybody’s Talkin'
Track 26 is the opening song on Side One of the "Touching You Touching Me" LP – released December 1969 in the USA on Uni Records 7307. Track 26 is a Fred Neil cover version. 

Disc 2 (77:26 minutes):
1. Mr. Bojangles [Jerry Jeff Walker cover]
2. Smokey Lady
3. Holly Holy
4. Both Sides Now [Joni Mitchell cover]
5. And The Singer Sings His Song
6. Ain’t No Way
7. New York Boy
8. Until It’s Time For You To Go [Buffy Sainte-Marie cover]
Tracks 1 to 8 on Disc 2 make up the remainder of the US LP “Touching You Touching Me” (note “Sweet Caroline” (25/1) was an additional track on the UK LP)

9. Cracklin’ Rosie
10. Free Life
11. Coldwater Morning
12. Done Too Soon
13. He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother [Bob Russell, Bobby Scott song – Hollies cover]
14. Childsong
15. I Am The Lion
16. Madrigal
17. Soolaimon
18. Missa
19. African Suite
20. Childsong (Reprise)
Tracks 9 to 20 are the whole album of “Tap Root Manuscript” – November 1970 LP on Uni Records 73092

21. I Am…I Said
22. The Last Thing On My Mind [Tom Paxton cover]
23. Husbands And Wives [Roger Miller cover]
24. Chelsea Morning [Joni Mitchell cover]
Tracks 21 to 24 are Side 1 of the album “Stones” – November 1971 LP on Uni Records 93106

Disc 3 (77:27 minutes):
1. Crunchy Granola Suite
2. Stones
3. If You Go Away [Jacques Brel – Rod McKuen cover]
4. Suzanne [Leonard Cohen cover]
5. I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today [Randy Newman cover]
6. I Am…I Said (Reprise)
Tracks 1 to 6 are Side 2 of the “Stones” LP

7. Song Sung Blue
8. Porcupine Pie
9. High Rolling Man
10. Canta Libre
11. Captain Sunshine
12. Play Me
13. Gitchy Goomy
14. Walk On Water
15. Theme
16. Prelude I E Major
17. Morningside
Tracks 7 to 17 are the whole album “Moods” – July 1972 LP on Uni Records 93136

18. Lordy (Live)
19. Kentucky Woman (Live)
20. Thank The Lord For The Night Time (Live)
Tracks 18, 19 and 20 are live bonus songs from the “Neil Diamond/Gold” album of August 1970

21. Solitary Man (Live)
22. Cherry, Cherry (Live)
23. Red, Red Wine (Live)
24. Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon (live)
Tracks 21, 22, 23 and 24 are from the December 1972 live double “Hot August Night”

The 24-page booklet has full Discography info including mini pictures of the album artwork and incisive liner notes by Robyn Flans (of People Magazine). But the big news is the 96K/24bit remasters by ERICK LABSON of Universal – a man who has over 1200 restoration credits to his name including most of the Chess Label.

The sound quality here is awesome and adds huge power to the “Stones” and “Moods” albums in particular. “Cracklin’ Rose”, “Shiloh”, “I Am…I Said”, “Song Sung Blue” – they’re all here. But for me the best here is the double-winner of “Stones” backed up by the funky “Crunchy Granola Suite” – a genius 7” single from 1972.

Even when he’s tackling cover versions like Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing On My Mind” or the gorgeous Midnight Cowboy song “Everybody’s Talkin’” – Diamond manages to respect the original while adding his own slice of Neil to it somehow. The earlier albums too are all but forgotten now and yet there’s blindingly good stuff on them like the plaintive “Brooklyn Roads”, the Spanish Guitar Walker Brothers melodrama of “A Modern Day version of Love” or the very Fred Neil warmth of “Hurting You Don’t Come Easy” (issued as a 45 B-side to “Holly Holy” in the UK and USA in November 1969). Jumping forward to 1972’s “Moods” LP and both “Gitchy Goomy” (fun) and the hurting “Morningside” sound gorgeous too (superb audio quality). And on it goes...

"...L.A.'s fine…the sun shines most the time…and the feeling's laid back…"

The 3CD haul of "Play Me: The Complete Uni Studio Recordings...Plus!" is probably more Big D than most can handle (a single disc "Best Of" would probably suffice). But if you're prepared to dig a bit deeper and embrace your inner Neil - the good stuff is great – and that audio quality will blow you away…

PS: For other superb Erick Labson remasters see my reviews for...
1. Gold by STEPPENWOLF (2CD Set)
2. The Complete Hit Singles by THREE DOG NIGHT
3. The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions by HOWLIN' WOLF featuring ERIC CLAPTON and members of the ROLLING STONES (2CD Deluxe Edition)
4. Not Fade Away - The Complete Studio Recordings And More by BUDDY HOLLY (6CD Book Set)
5. Greatest Hits Volume 2 - The ABC/Dunhill/MCA Years by BOBBY BLAND
6. Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues by MUDDY WATERS  

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