Fred Neil's two classic Elektra records albums assembled together on one CD, with new biographical notes supported by lots of photos, too. The CD is slightly uneven as a listening experience, mostly by virtue of the songs off of Tear Down the Walls, a hybrid work that has moments of inspired, heavyweight brilliance from Neil, compromised by the lighter-textured voice of Vince Martin, who almost always seems like he's trying hard to keep up with Neil and measure up to what his partner is doing. There are some brilliant songs, as the two slip into a serious blues groove on "Weary Blues"; soar together on the exultant, extended duet of "Baby" (which plays like an Indian raga with vocals); the darker-toned "Morning Dew"; and the driving, crunchy "Linin' Track," which leads into "Wild Child in a World of Trouble."
It's unsurprising that If the Jasmine Don't Get You the Bay Breeze Will, with its six extended folk-rock compositions, bears a strong resemblance to the late-'60s Capitol recordings by Neil himself, as Neil and Martin shared Nik Venet as a producer. The Neil parallels are even less unexpected given that Martin had sung with Neil as a duo in the mid-'60s (they recorded one LP for Elektra). The easygoing but emotional feel of the material and delivery is of a general piece with Neil's, but more laid-back and countrified. The loose, jazzy folk-rock feel of "Yonder Comes the Sun" bears some resemblance to late-'60s Tim Buckley as well. Martin's pleasant, high voice lacks the emotional depth of Neil's, but this remains a pleasant, if low-key, period folk-rock record. The Fred Neil similarity becomes especially prevalent on the concluding "Jasmine," a long, flowing folk-rock jam with hints of raga, much in the manner of some of the lengthier cuts on Neil's pair of Capitol studio albums.
Neil Diamond's five-decade career as a singer, songwriter, and performer has certainly been a successful one by any standard. He’s sold well over 115 million records worldwide to date and has had eight number one singles ("Cracklin Rosie," "Song Sung Blue," "Desiree," "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," "Love on the Rocks," "America," "Yesterday's Songs," and "Heartlight"), and if he hasn't always generated the kind of critical respect he probably deserves, he’s been a steady and dependable artist who has managed to keep his large core audience happy. This 23-track set surveys the whole of Diamond's recording career, collecting his key and signature sides, beginning with his first hits for Bang Records in the mid-'60s through his commercial peak for Uni/MCA between 1968 and 1972, cuts from 1980’s The Jazz Singer (a soundtrack album that went platinum five times over on Capitol Records), and ending with tracks from Diamond's two Rick Rubin-produced albums, 2005’s 12 Songs and 2008’s Home Before Dark, on Columbia Records.
Working together since 1978, the partnership of Zorn and Frith is one of the most enduring musical partnerships in the downtown scene. Their periodic duo concerts have always been special events in themselves, but when it happens in celebration of Zorn's 50th Birthday, it takes on even greater meaning. Two masters of improvisation meet head to head in the redhot crucible of Tonic for an hour of telepathic communication and exploration, and you are there.