Music: Bandmaster of the Mainstream

Hit records and a new movie bring Neil Diamond back to basics

The beginning, he remembers now, was a contest. At the age of three, this Coney Island baby stood tall, mouthed selections from The Marriage of Figaro as a record played in the background, and pulled down a prize of 25¢.

Thirty-seven years later, the stakes are higher, the rewards are greater, but Neil Diamond is still fronting a big sound. He has written and sung some of the smoothest and best contemporary pop, yet he remains a performer in search of a tradition,...

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