Los Angeles Times August 22nd 1996

Daimond mixes the Glitter With Some Songs Sung New
by Mike Boehm
Do you have the nerve?

Neil Diamond posed that question twice tuesday to a packed house at the Pond of Anaheim.

Putting on a tone of mock sterness, he wanted to know if his 19,322 enraptured admirers (his own announced tally) had the nerve to stand up and dance to a couple of his brighter, sway-along numbers. He didn't really need to ask.

But-and this is a nice surprise-it's a question diamond should be asking seriously of himself these days. After nearly 20 years mired in schmaltz, he has come up with a new album, "Tennesse Moon," that gives him the traction to break free of the middle road. It's warm, country-tinged mainstream pop album in which the songs, writted mainly with veteran Nashville-based collaborators, turn the focus on the feelings and dramas inherent in the material rather than serving as mere platforms for star-turn dramatics.

Does Diamond have the nerve, at 55, to invest fully in that new direction, swear off the treacle and the grandstanding, and get back to being what he was in his 20's-a writer and performer of enduring, indeliby mel.odic pop songs with a firm, earthy rooted-ness folk, R&B and rock 'n' roll?

The answer at the pond (where he was scheduled to play a second sold-out show Wednesday) was that Diamond has not taken a daring leap but at least is moving in the right direction. while everything dislikable in his style was on display, including bloated, histrionic ballads delivered with grating, baritone bellow and semi-operatic posing, it was distinctly outweighted by everything that was worthwhile.

Give Diamond a strong, roots-based rhythmic pulse, and some alcchemy occurs by which those bloated histronics are turned into peruasive, large-scale drama. A peak example was "Holly Holy." in which ringing, inexorable gospel piano chords pushed him to a crest of fervor so convincing that, had he issued an alter call, he might have converted thousands to any creed he wished.

Diamond's two-hour-plus show got rolling with fully engaged versions of such prime and diverse 60's songs as "Solitary Man," "Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon" and the lusty celebration "Cherry, Cherry."

Diversity and solid songwriting also highlighted a five-tune sequence from "Tennesse Moon' that included a powerhouse anthem "Can Anybody Hear Me," stripped-down blues and folk, and a pop balled, "Marry Me," that proved Diamond's music can be lush without having to gush. One could almost forget the sequins woven through the singer's faux-flannel shirt and take him for a straightforward, downhome songsmith with no grandiose persona to sell.

But "Hello Again," "Love on the Rocks" and serveral other gaseous ballads were big crowd-pleasures, and it wouldindeed take alot of nerve for diamond not to play them for the fans. Can he, or can he not, challenge them by singing a refrain that goes, "ill be what I am,...no more schmaltzy, dreary man"? For now, it may be achievement enough that a songwriter who had been creatively insignificant-can't for so long has made it worth asking.


The Orange County Register

Neil Diamond mines his tried-and-true style
Although enjoyable, the longtime performer's rousing Pond set could have been much more.
By David Konjoyan
Like any smart performer who has been making music for, oh,about as long as ford has been making cars, Neil Diamond knows that reinvention can be the aging man's Geritol. The release of Diamond's latest album, "Tennessee Moon," reveals his recognition that old dogs must learn new tricks to remian vital, often even in the eyes of their staunchest fans.

After 30-plus-year career that has seen diamond become pop folkie, actor and Vegas-style performer and balladeer, the singer traveled to Nashville to record "Moon." co-writing and duetting with country stars such as Hal Ketchum, Waylon Jennings and the Mavericks' Raul Malo. The album, in turn has received praise for reinstilling some of the character and charm been missing from Diamond's more recent recorded work. Diamond hasn't, however. brought the same sense of adventure to his broad live show, which hit the Arrowhead pond of Anaheim on tuesday night, his first Anaheim show since a stop at the convenmtion center in '69.

Displaying the same body language (sweeping hand gestures, lots of blowen kisses), nearly the same repertoire and even many identical "ad-libs" as his last pervious Southern California appearence at the Forum Diamond has decided that familiarity works best when it comes to live performance, and it's hard to argue with him given his rousing reception, though one might take an exception or two.

Diamond remains the consummate showman. Though he mines the same treasures from his large war chest of hits-great songs such as "Cracklin' Rosie" and "Solitary Man," more predictable ballads such as "September Morn" and "Love on the Rocks"-he delivers them plenty of high energy appeal, always taking every opportunity to connect with his zealous audience.

And Diamond did bring a few minor changes to the program, pulling five songs songs from "Tennessee moon" part way though the nonstop, 2 1/4 - hour show. the mostly tender, countryfied songs of the romantic introspection worked fairly well, even giving his large nine-piece band a chance to strip to sparer arrangments. But the reserved response also proved Diamond's familiarity maxim.

The section also brought the usually eager-to-please performer's one mean-spirited moment of the evening : apparently expecting to be joined onstage by Jennings, Diamond joked, "I have good news and bad news, The bad news is Waylon couldn't be here tonight. The good news is, who cares?"

Diamond also broke his tacit rule of seperating his private and professional lives, alluding to his recent divorce before launching into "Marry Me," giving the song added depth. But given diamond's recent personal trails, which inform many songs on "Tennessee Moon," he didn't sing his songs of pure romance ("September Morn") or loss and loneliness ("Shilo") with any greater resonance.

These days, he seems to connect far less with his songs than with his audience. Even with Diamond's limited vocal range and power (though he did seem in stronger voice than his last previous visit to Southern California), he chooses The Big show over any sense of intimacy, he's always ready with sing-along crowd-pleasers such as "Song Sung Blue" and "America."

Given the low -key response to the new "Moon" songs, maybe Diamond does himself a service by sticking to a formula approach, but still such a show retain meaning and vitality down the road? Even while hip bands such as Urge Overkill introduce Diamond songs to a younger audiences, Diamond seems content to please crowds in the same way


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