The latest installment of this dulcet-voiced cancer victim's posthumous oeuvre finds her unplugged-sometimes in the studio, sometimes before a rapt club audience. Most of the songs will be familiar to her fans. What might not is the gospel sub-theme that results from having "People Get Ready" follow "Wayfaring Stranger." ("Wade in the Water" comes later.) Whether it strengthens or is strengthened by songs made famous by Cyndi Lauper, Sandy Denny, and Judy Garland remains to be determined. What doesn't is that she was an interpreter par excellence.
Although Diamond enjoyed his greatest success in the 1970s, it was these 23 songs that paved the way and that, hind listening being 20/20, comprise his artistic peak. With one foot still in the Brill Building game and superstardom a mere glimmer on the horizon, he was humble enough both to write songs worthy of being covered ("I'm a Believer," "Red, Red Wine") and to record songs he hadn't written ("Red Rubber Ball," "Monday, Monday"). They're almost enough to make one forgive (if not forget) Hot August Night.
These three discs and 109 songs spanning the career to date of one of rock's most singular and indefatigable underground talents will prove too much for all but the most adventuresome. But in smaller doses (say one disc at a time) even the moderately adventuresome will find much to love or at least be fascinated by. You want chutzpah? Fair has chutzpah to spare and then some. Think Jonathan Richman meets the Velvet Underground. And, believe it or not, this collection is just the tip of his iceberg.
This teaser for Sony's dozen-disc Take a Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia puts the lie to the accusation that Columbia clipped Franklin's soulful wings by turning her into a cross between Nancy Wilson and Mahalia Jackson. She sounds plenty soulful on "Cold, Cold Heart," and elsewhere she's hardly chopped liver. The accompaniment (the metropolitan equivalent of countrypolitan) is what takes some getting used to. But Franklin adapted. And although she wouldn't record Young, Gifted and Black until 1972, she sounds all three here. And in that order.
The musical partnership of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel resulted in over a dozen hit singles that, when all is said and done, may eclipse even Simon's generally (and sometimes vastly) superior subsequent solo work. But of their five studio albums, only their last, 1970's Bridge over Troubled Water, has endured as a stand-alone artifact to rival their greatest hits. So it's appropriate that Columbia should've chosen it to get the deluxe-reissue treatment, replete with a DVD containing a period-piece ABC documentary and a fresh behind-the-scenes making-of overview.
But as fascinating as the bonus disc is, it's the 11 songs of the audio album itself that justify Columbia's extravagance. Aside from its four hit singles ("The Boxer," "Cecilia," "El Cóndor Pasa," and the title cut), it also contains "The Only Living Boy in New York," as magisterial a song as they ever recorded, and "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright," proof positive that singing about architecture beats the sounds of silence.