Albums

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Pop - Released December 7, 2018 | A&M

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The greatest classics from The Carpenters have resurfaced in a sublime blend of vocal harmonies and symphonic arrangements. For this project in 2018, Richard Carpenter himself went along to Abbey Road Studios. Their last album in 1981, Made in America, was a half-posthumous album (Richard’s sister Karen having died in 1983 at only 32 years of age) and invoked a certain feeling of nostalgia, showing that this legendary pop group shifting more towards easy-listening could still be deep. However, it is still very rooted in the American culture of the seventies, particularly through the classics Close To You, Rainy Days and Mondays and We’ve Only Just Begun. With this album, the legacy of The Carpenters lives on in an unconventional way. The producers have kept the voices of the original recordings and some instrumental parts, surrounding them with the brand-new sounds of the violins from the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Thanks to their classy arrangements, these strings tastefully accentuate the romanticism of this timeless pop. © Clotilde Maréchal/Qobuz
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Pop - Released November 30, 2018 | Neil Diamond

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Pop - Released July 28, 2017 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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North, Elvis Costello's 20th album of new material, follows the deliberately classicist When I Was Cruel by a mere year, but it feels more the sequel to 1998's Burt Bacharach collaboration, Painted From Memory, or even 1993's roundly ignored classical pop experiment, The Juliet Letters. Costello has abandoned clanging guitars and drums of Cruel -- abandoned rock & roll, really -- to return to a set of classically influenced songs, all "composed, arranged and conducted" by the man himself (on The Juliet Letters, he was merely the composer and voice). The songs on North are pitched halfway between traditional torch ballads and arty contemporary Broadway writers such as Stephen Sondheim. This isn't so much a shift in direction after When I Was Cruel as much as it is an extension of the Bacharach album (in this context, Cruel seems like the aberration), but it's also a reflection of Costello's new love for Canadian jazz singer Diana Krall. It's not just that North is somewhat of a song cycle, starting with the despair of a failed relationship and ending with the hope of a new love, but that it's somewhat written in the style of Krall's music: self-consciously sophisticated and slightly jazzy. Ultimately, North is not jazz-pop; it's classical pop, with Costello more interested in the structure, arrangement, and words of the song rather than mere catchiness. It's a very writerly album, in regards to both the music and lyrics. Consequently, it takes a bit of effort to get into the album, since it purposefully lacks hooks and songs as immediate or tuneful as those on Painted From Memory or "Jacksons, Monk and Rowe" from The Juliet Letters. This is not a flaw, per se -- it's simply what the album is, a collection of subtle songs performed with an elegant understatement. Unlike The Juliet Letters, North never feels like an exercise, nor does it feel like Costello has something to prove. It's a specific, personal album with serious ambitions that it fulfills. If the album ultimately winds up being something to listen to on occasion rather than a record to spin repeatedly, that doesn't make Costello's achievement with this song cycle any less admirable. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released April 21, 2017 | Verve Decca Crossover

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Barry Manilow has busied himself with concept albums since 2004's Scores: Songs from Copacabana and Harmony but This Is My Town: Songs of New York may be the best of the batch. It helps that the idea -- songs from his hometown of New York City -- is clearly defined, less amorphous than his salutes to the decades, and not as mawkish as My Dream Duets, his last album. Manilow isn't ready to leave behind the electronic duets that drove that record -- he cobbles together a virtual duet with Mel Tormé on "The Brooklyn Bridge" -- but that's merely an accent on a record that finds Manilow offering a musical tour of the five boroughs. Naturally, there's an element of cheese here -- it's evident not only on the goofy "Coney Island" but in how he interpolates Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind" -- but that's part of his charm: he's always happy to smile along with his audience, offering a show with his song. And, crucially, This Is My Town: Songs of New York progresses like a cabaret show, opening with the keynote title track, sliding into a slow number four cuts in ("Lonely Town"), playing with the collective memory of the audience via covers of the Drifters, and then ending with a rousing medley. Perhaps the production is a touch too clean, but Manilow's panache and expert song selection compensate for such polish: this feels not like an exercise, but a record he believes in and, after a decade of affable nostalgia, that's really welcome. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released March 31, 2017 | Neil Diamond

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Pop - Released October 16, 1993 | Neil Diamond

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Pop - Released July 1, 2001 | Capitol Records, LLC

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Pop - Released December 16, 2016 | Neil Diamond

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Pop - Released December 16, 2016 | Neil Diamond

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Pop - Released October 2, 2010 | Neil Diamond

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Pop - Released November 8, 2005 | Capitol Records, LLC

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Pop - Released December 2, 2016 | Neil Diamond

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Neil Diamond transitioned from professional songwriter to performer when he signed with Bang Records in 1966. There, he cut two albums -- his 1966 debut The Feel of Neil Diamond and its 1967 sequel Just for You -- that contained his greatest songs: “Solitary Man,” “Cherry, Cherry,” “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” “Kentucky Woman,” “Thank the Lord for the Night Time,” “I’m a Believer,” “Red, Red Wine,” “The Boat That I Row,” “You Got to Me,” and “Shilo.” All these, along with the rest of the two Bang albums all presented out of LP order, are on Columbia/Legacy’s 2011 The Bang Years: 1966-1968, by far the best overview ever assembled of this crucial era for Diamond. It’s not just that these are Diamond’s best songs but these are his best records: crisp, lively, colorful pop tunes balanced by luxurious moody brooding ballads. Once he turned into a superstar Diamond tended to rely on his innate showmanship, but here at the beginning of his career he sounded hungry and knew how to have fun, giving these records a snap that still stings decades later. And Diamond knows just how good these recordings are, as indicated by the terrific autobiographical liner notes he’s penned for this collection, notes that give this music context, but they’re not necessary to appreciate The Bang Years: this is pop music that’s so pure it needs no explanation. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released November 21, 1987 | Geffen

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Pop - Released February 26, 1977 | Neil Diamond

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Pop - Released January 1, 1969 | Geffen

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Although he managed to place three singles in the charts after joining Uni Records in 1968, Neil Diamond did not achieve a real hit record on the label until March 1969, when his fourth Uni single, "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show," got into the Top 40. Naturally, Diamond quickly assembled an album to support the single, and it was released the following month. On it, the singer/songwriter to a certain extent followed the lead of the gospel-tinged hit, a tribute to a rural evangelist, by giving a country feel to the arrangements of such songs as "Long Gone," "Glory Road," and even the novelty "You're So Sweet, Horseflies Keep Hangin' 'Round Your Face," which, with lines like "You're more loyal than my dog Sam/And twice as pretty," was really a country parody. At times, the album betrayed the speed with which it had been put together, with songs like "Dig In" and "River Runs, New Grown Plums" coming off more as unfinished sketches than developed compositions. Diamond seemed to write on the guitar, and sometimes his up-tempo numbers didn't get much beyond the stage of being basic rhythmic strums, a rudimentary melody, and a few catch phrases. (The arrangers tried to hide this sketchiness behind strings, horns, and female choruses.) His ballads seemed more considered, making songs like "And the Grass Won't Pay No Mind" (a Top 40 hit for Mark Lindsay in 1970) the album's strongest. But Diamond may have been aware that the material was mostly second-rate. Normally, Uni would have been expected to pull another couple of songs as singles, but instead Diamond quickly delivered a new single, "Sweet Caroline," within two months of the LP's appearance. When that song became a breakout Top Five hit, Uni added it to later pressings of the album. ~ William Ruhlmann
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Pop - Released November 25, 2016 | Neil Diamond

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Pop - Released December 16, 1978 | Geffen

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Pop - Released December 3, 1977 | Neil Diamond

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Pop - Released October 26, 1974 | Neil Diamond

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Neil Diamond's first regular album release for Columbia Records, following the success of the movie soundtrack Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Serenade is a slight effort characterized by Diamond's attempts to make pop sentiments seem more profound by grafting more auspicious art references onto them. But whether he's name-dropping Picasso or Longfellow, Diamond still has greeting card sentiments on his mind. Nevertheless, the catchiest of these autodidactic exercises, "Longfellow Serenade," which combines comments about "winged flight" with the exhortation, "Come on, baby, ride," was a Top Ten hit. ~ William Ruhlmann
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Pop - Released May 24, 1986 | Neil Diamond

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Having stumbled with Primitive, Diamond attempted, with Headed for the Future, to re-establish himself as a contemporary artist, co-writing with Stevie Wonder, recording songs by Bryan Adams and Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, and employing nine producers and nine recording studios. The result was a slight upturn in sales and Diamond's last singles-chart entry with the title track. But the album was also overblown and unfocused, record-making by committee, and Neil Diamond as an individual artist was getting lost in the process. ~ William Ruhlmann

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