Mon Spin: Neil Diamond/M. Katz


A rare Monday installment of our regular classic album salute in honor of Hanukkah, which began at sundown last night.

Despite the draw to fill up Madison Square Garden several times over each tour, Neil Diamond doesn't always get the critical respect he's due. Even though he's been experimenting since his late '60s debut with elements like African musical forms, complex orchestration and studio trickery on par with any of his '60s peers, Diamond will probably always be regarded as a mainstream pop wonk, capable of mass appeal music but not really an "artist" to many folks. But, there's few more bulletproof endorsements than Robbie Robertson of The Band, who produced Diamond's 1976 concept album, Beautiful Noise. The two men were neighbors in Malibu, CA at the time, and Robertson was fascinated by Neil's really old school musical roots, something referenced in the original vinyl sleeve's note: "Tin pan alley died hard, but there was always the music to keep you going." Like much of Diamond's work, Beautiful Noise is sprawling, unrepentantly sentimental, catchier than you first suspect and crafted to a dustless sheen. It also has a personal flavor missing from some of his more radio-oriented outings since it's based around Diamond's early struggles to earn a living with his composing skills. From the New Orleans shuffle of "Stargazer" to the Robertson co-write "Dry Your Eyes," the album just works (as long as you can abide the polish and schmaltz), and stands as a lesser known gem in a long and still growing catalog.

Here's Diamond with The Band performing "Dry Your Eyes" at The Last Waltz.

Far less well known to the masses is Klezmer pioneer Mickey Katz. A member of Spike Jones and His City Slickers, Katz took the clarinet into strange new places and helped birthed the modern parody song. The wild, cartoony stylings of his '50s albums can ring a little off to contemporary ears but underneath the yucks and Yiddish resides some real musical meat. The proof of this is present day clarinet monster Don Byron's Plays The Music of Mickey Katz, a stunning introduction and exploration of Katz's music.

This 1993 release introduced a whole generation of goyim to Katz's wild ass music. Arriving out of left field from Byron, a musician closely linked at the time with the Downtown NYC jazz/avant garde scene, Plays The Music of Mickey Katz swings, yet retains some of Katz's innate silliness. There's a rump-pinching spirit to Katz that remains strongly intact in his compositions, and Bryon and his collaborators – including Uri Caine (piano), Jay Berliner (mandolin), Dave Douglas (trumpet) and Avi Hoffman (vocals) – clearly delight in romping through his material. This album is the rare combination of extremely high musicianship and broad yucks. A real delight, and a strong reminder of the richness of Jewish music and culture.

Here's Katz (the one with the clarinet) and Spike Jones clowning onscreen in 1947.

[Published on: 12/22/08]

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AintNoFreedom starstarstarstar Mon 12/22/2008 11:03AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Well Neil Diamond's x-mas album is a currently a mainstay in my rotation, it's mostly for comic relief... It's hard for me to see him more as, how you put it a "wonk"... Always my least favorite part of The otherwise stellar Last Waltz.

That second video there though, is some seriously groundbreaking slapstick.

Matty Boh starstarstarstarstar Mon 12/22/2008 12:36PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Neil Diamond? Jambase you have got to be kidding.

wastintimejp starstarstarstarstar Mon 12/22/2008 01:14PM
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what's wrong with Neil Diamond? Are you ignorant? KNOW YOUR ROOTS!!!

If they can post news stories about Dave Matthews Band, they should be able to write something about Neil.

JornBarger Tue 12/23/2008 08:56AM
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Your Community Guidelines say "No sexist, racist or otherwise offensive remarks will be tolerated" but you let your writers call gentiles 'goyim'? I find this very offensive.

PooDolla Tue 12/23/2008 12:56PM
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Yep, kinda crossing the line.

terapin Tue 12/30/2008 11:50AM
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Check out the keeper of the drum kit in Neil's band.......Ron Tutt.....He alone is enough for JamBase to post articles about Neil Diamond.

terapin Tue 12/30/2008 11:51AM
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Terapin - Who is this Ron Tutt you speak of???

terapin Tue 12/30/2008 12:07PM
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Terapin - Funny you should ask - Ron Tutt was Elvis Presley's drummer in the 1970's. In 1975 he beat the skins for some band called the Legion of Mary. Rumor has it this Legion of Mary band had a decent guitar player that could also sing......Throughout the 1970s he played with that guitar player from Legion of Mary….when his duties backing up the King permitted him to get away…


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