Simon, Diamond and … Sinatra?

Download this story in Microsoft Word here

What do Paul Simon, Neil Diamond and Frank Sinatra have in common?

No, the punch line doesn’t involve a rabbi, priest, or bar. Rather, the work of these world-famous artists is spotlighted on three recently released CDs. Simon and Diamond are both Jewish, and the new Sinatra CD (Frank was Italian and raised Roman Catholic) is a tribute album by Jewish singer Michael Feinstein.

Here’s the lineup:

The Very Best of Neil Diamond: The Original Studio Recordings (Columbia/Legacy)

Few singer/songwriters have had more sustained success than Neil Diamond, and few deserve to be repackaged and reintroduced to fans—old and new—as much as he does. That may be why the vault-dwelling denizens at Columbia/Legacy have seen it fit to honor Neil one more time.

Click photo to download. Caption: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anna Kiner sings "Sweet Caroline" with Neil Diamond during Boston's nationally televised 4th of July concert. Credit: U.S. Navy

Not to be confused with the similarly dubbed Pickwick Records release from the 80’s, this new collection of one of America’s most timeless songwriters is a greatest hits collection in the truest sense of the word. From original renditions of such coverable classics as “I’m a Believer,” “Red, Red Wine” and “Girl, You’ll Be Woman Soon” (which is far stronger and more affecting than the Urge Overkill version) to a delicate duet with Barbara Streisand of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” and such truly original offerings as the proud “America,” the gently astounding “Pretty Amazing Grace,” and the ballpark favorite “Sweet Caroline,” there is nary a “fluff” cut on the disc.

Just shy of two dozen tracks, make this a collection to get lost in for a bit and to come back to again and again, just as so many people come back to Neil year after year. From end to end, it’s a “Beautiful Noise” indeed.

Michael Feinstein—The Sinatra Project, Vol II: The Good Life (Concord)

Though he may have run out of “signature” songs on this follow-up to the Grammy-nominated “Sinatra Project,” Michael Feinstein brings his own signature voice to a second set of songs that capture Sinatra’s sense of style and swing. From the bouncy last- man-on-earth fantasy of “Thirteen Women,” to the aching loss of “C’est Comme Ca,” to the richly orchestrated duet of “Luck be a Lady” and “All I Need is the Girl,” Feinstein brings a new palette of mood and tone to these timeless tunes.

Click photo to download. Caption: Frank Sinatra in 1960. Credit: NARA.

While a few of these selections are clearly Sinatra songs (among them “The Way You Look Tonight” and “The Lady is a Tramp”), Feinstein also pays tribute to other master interpreters (and Sinatra satellites) such as Ray Charles (“Hallelujah I Love Her So”), Tony Bennett (“The Good Life”) and even Stevie Wonder (“For Once in My Life”) and Tom Cat (a take on “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” that also takes a coda from “On Broadway”).

Even though it may be more about the Board (of which Feinstein was often a humble member) than the Chairman himself, Feinstein brings his impeccable musical intellect and pervasive melodic passion to his latest well-chosen and beautifully crafted tribute album. Though The Voice may be gone, Feinstein does an admirable job of sustaining the spirit that infused it and helped it dominate the musical universe.

Paul Simon—Songwriter (Columbia/Legacy)

As he has been rhymin’ for so long and has nearly as many compilations as albums, it may be difficult to pull anything new and noteworthy from the Paul Simon catalog. On this latest collection, a worthy attempt is made, but older fans may not find much new to wow them.

Other than the underrated chestnut “Peace Like a River” and the Allen Toussaint-blessed “Tenderness,” live editions of “The Boxer” and “The Sound of Silence” (the latter a previously unreleased version recorded this year at Webster Hall), and a Gospel-ed cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Soul Queen Aretha Franklin, most of the first of this two-disc set has been heard and collected before.

Click photo to download. Caption: Paul Simon in 2008. Credit: dbking.

Disc two picks up where “Negotiations and Love Songs” left off and features songs from such later hits as “Rhythm of the Saints,” “You’re the One” and Simon’s Broadway effort, “The Capeman.” While it is interesting to experience Simon’s international explorations on one voyage, lyrics like “Guh guh guh guh / Lih lih lih lih / Oom bop a doom” do not hold up well against the poetic grace of his days with Art Garfunkel or the commentary of his international smash “Graceland.”

Nevertheless, this latest collection demonstrates the breadth and depth of Simon’s musical interests and talents, and it is worth a listen even if you have heard most of it before.

Posted on January 9, 2012 and filed under Arts.