Spirit moves Neil Diamond even when his voice falters

June 07, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Even though his reputation is as a singer/songwriter, Neil Diamond is, frankly, more songwriter than singer. That's not to say he can't carry a tune; obviously, he could never have scored so many Top-40 hits if he didn't know how to put a song across.

But as his Saturday show at the Baltimore Arena made plain, Diamond these days gets by as much on personality and showmanship as on vocal ability.

Sure, he could sing sweetly when the occasion demanded -- his renditions of "September Morn" and "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" certainly bore that out -- but for the most part, he seemed more interested in getting the spirit of the song across than in worrying about the niceties of vocal technique. Indeed, by the time he got to the set-closing "I Am . . . I Said," Diamond's voice had worn down to a rasp, reducing the song's melody to the barest outline.

Not that the fans seemed to mind. As far as this capacity crowd was concerned, so long as Diamond played their favorites and gave his all, they figured they were getting their money's worth.

Diamond definitely delivered, too. He gave them heartfelt and sentimental readings of "Play Me" and "September Morn"; he FTC gave them spirited, sing-along versions of "Cracklin' Rosie" and "Forever In Blue Jeans." He even gave them a bit of flag-waving spectacle with "America," during the course of which Diamond became a one-man advertisement for the glories of immigration.

But mostly, he gave them Neil Diamond. He chatted with them, made jokes, modestly thanked them for their applause ("Don't be that nice," he said at one point, "we don't deserve it"). He even made a stab at rapping, tossing a few rhymes into a reggae-fied "Red, Red Wine."

His shtick didn't always work. For all the pathos loaded into "Morningside," his performance Saturday plodded annoyingly, while the laser-lit "Heading for the Future" was far more interesting to watch than to hear.

Still, when Diamond hit his mark, he was simply amazing. How else to explain the way he made "Song Sung Blue" -- a tune so irritating that it usually has me lunging for the tuner by the third bar -- seem so light-hearted and likable? Likewise, the performance he and back-up singer Linda Press gave of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" was so genuinely moving that it seemed less like a song than an actual slice of some couple's life.

Not every singer/songwriter can deliver moments like that. And the fact that Neil Diamond still does goes a long way toward explaining why he remains one of the biggest draws in pop today.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.