Saturday, 2 July 2016

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

"...The Feeling's Laid Back..."

If you're a fan - or even casually browsing Neil Diamond's early career - you will probably notice the photos that accompany the Amazon entry for this 80's MCA CD of his 1971 album "Stones". It features that dreaded plain rear sleeve. In means the single disc offered here is from the first vanguard of CD reissues and most 'weren't' remastered - leaving you the listener with decidedly average sound. If you want the 'actual' best audio for "Stones" - you have to look elsewhere and spend a few quid (but it will be well worth it).

Using Discs 2 and 3 - the very best audio variant of the "Stones" LP by NEIL DIAMOND can be found within "Play Me: The Complete Uni Studio Recordings…Plus!" on MCA/Universal 088 112 824 2 (Barcode 008811282424) released in the UK and USA in May 2003 (use the Barcode supplied to get the right issue). Here are the details...

Disc 2 (77:26 minutes):
21. I Am…I Said [Neil Diamond song]
22. The Last Thing On My Mind [Tom Paxton cover]
23. Husbands And Wives [Roger Miller cover]
24. Chelsea Morning [Joni Mitchell cover]

Disc 3 (77:27 minutes):
1. Crunchy Granola Suite [Neil Diamond song]
2. Stones [Neil Diamond song]
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) [Neil Diamond song]
Tracks 21 to 24 on Disc 2 combined with Tracks 1 to 6 on Disc 3 are Sides 1 and 2 of the album "Stones" – released November 1971 in the USA on Uni Records 93106 and December 1971 in the UK on Uni Records UNLS 121. Produced by TOM CATLANO – it peaked at No. 11 in the US LP charts and No. 18 in the UK.

The 24-page 'Play Me' 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 Audio restoration credits to his name including most of the Chess Label and huge swathes of Universal's monster back catalogue (Mama's & Papa's, Steppenwolf, Buddy Holly, Etta James, Bobby Bland, Bo Diddley, Joe Jackson, Three Dog Night, Wishbone Ash, The Who - the list of his accomplished transfers is long and illustrious). The sound quality here is awesome and adds huge power to every track - but especially to the beautifully produced "Stones" LP - the most underrated album of Neil Diamond's on-going catalogue.

As you can see from the track list provided above - of the 9 songs (the last is a 'Reprise' of "I Am...I Said") - only three are Neil Diamond originals - but all are proper corkers. 
You get "I Am...I Said", "Stones" and "Crunchy Granola Suite" – each taken by Uni and flogged as successful 45s. The other seven songs are covers of the best contemporary artists of the day - Tom Paxton’s plaintive and lovely “The Last Thing On My Mind", Joni Mitchell's upbeat and summery "Chelsea Morning" (not as good as her original it has to be said) and Randy Newman's aching and sad "I Think It's Going To Rain Today". 
We even get a go at Roger Miller’s domestic morality tale “Husbands And Wives” and Leonard Cohen’s mumbling shagpad classic “Suzanne”. And on all - Diamond manages to respect the original while adding his own slice of Neil-ness to the proceedings.

I've often thought that the beautiful ballad "Stones" should have been a number 1 - backing on the B-side by the "dig!" of "Crunchy Granola Suite" - the closest he ever got to Rocker-Cool. And what can you say about "I Am...I Said" – surely the album’s penultimate song. It's cheesy I know - but it's my kind of Gorgonzola and Wensleydale – still tickles me. Hell - he even looks good in his bare feet on the cover...

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

The 2003 American MCA 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 most likely suffice that also includes his later Columbia/CBS stuff). But if you're prepared to dig a bit deeper and embrace your inner Neil - the good stuff like the “Stones” album is truly great.

More forgotten and overlooked album goodies include May 1969's "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show" and November 1970's "Tap Root Manuscript". And that audio quality will blow you away…

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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