47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
A comprehensive review of Diamond's maturation,
This review is from: Play Me: The Complete Uni Studio Recordings...Plus! (Audio CD)
As one reviewer already noted, there have been numerous variations of box sets containing the work of Neil Diamond's Uni/MCA years. But finally, with "Play Me...", they finally compiled it in the ideal way: complete, chronologically, and digitally remastered. The end result is an enjoyable, if slightly uneven, collection that really demonstrates Mr. Diamond's maturation into one of the seminal American singer-songwriters.
Mr. Diamond had already enjoyed success on the pop charts in the late 1960's with "Solitary Man", "Cherry Cherry" and other hits. But his move to the Uni label was not so much a move to "reinvent" himself as it was to expand and refine his musical horizons. Disc One of this set - containing the albums "Velvet Gloves and Spit", "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show", and part of "Touching You, Touching Me" - shows the first awkward steps. There are probably more misses here than hits, so you may find yourself skipping tracks. It does include a humorous look into the studio with "Broad Old Woman (6 AM Insanity)", but in listening to this disc, you can begin to hear the maturation and transition of Neil Diamond in the tunes and lyrics. By the time the CD hits "Sweet Caroline", most of the "Cherry Cherry" sound is gone and a different kind of pop sound - the unique "Neil Diamond sound" that doesn't fit in any particular musical genre - is starting to form.
Disc Two finishes off "Touching You Touching Me", then rolls into "Tap Root Manuscript" (an underrated album in the Diamond discography), and the beginning of "Stones". This disc shows the maturation nearly complete, as you listen to the awesome "Holly Holy", the hit and concert staple "Cracklin' Rosie", the African experimentation of the remainder of "Tap Root Manuscript", and the dynamic introspection of "I Am, I Said".
By the time the listener reaches Disc Three, the maturation is very much complete, and the new "Neil Diamond sound" is in full effect. The lyrics are as deep, powerful, and emotionally touching, as are the tunes, which are now including elegant acoustic guitars, pianos, and strings. As this disc rolls through the last part of "Stones" and the tracks from "Moods", the listener gets to hear the foundation for "Jonathan Livingston Seagull", which - while not included on this set - became one of the seminal albums in Mr. Diamond's career. The add-on live tracks at the end of this disc are largely unnecessary, and don't add anything particularly to the larger collection.
Throughout all three discs, the digital remastering of these songs is remarkable. It is a audio treasure to hear even more of the range of the rich music contained in this collection. This alone might draw the die-hard Neil Diamond fan to buying this set.
One reviewer notes this demonstrates Mr. Diamond as more of a singles artist than an album's artist. That is debatable; while you could make a case to that effect simply from this box set, the breadth of Mr. Diamond's career has shown many examples of his ability to create powerful albums (e.g., "Jonathan Livingston Seagull", "Beautiful Noise", and "The Jazz Singer"). What listeners should take from this collection is what I have described here: the maturation of Neil Diamond as a singer-songwriter. Additionally, there is the simpler fact that with this one inexpensive purchase, you'll get six albums in one package.
I wholeheartedly recommend this collection to Neil Diamond fans or those just discovering and/or becoming a fan of his music. The average listener may not appreciate it as much, despite the fact that there is some very good music to be found here.