The decision to make a modern version of Al Jolson's "Jazz Singer" in 1980is one of the more dubious ideas to come out of Hollywood. Putting singerNeil Diamond in the Jolson role opposite Laurence Olivier as his cantorfather and Lucy Arnaz as the woman he loves had only one sure upside inthat Diamond also did the music for the film. If your choice is betweenwatching the film or listening to the soundtrack, then listen to thesoundtrack.
Diamond was inspired by the immigrant element of the story to honor thenational melting pot in the opening song "America," along with one of hisbetter ballads from that part of his career "Hello Again." The songs alsoplay to Diamond's strength in that several of them would be done "live" inthe context of the film, and anyone who has listened to "Hot August Night"or any other concert album by Diamond knows he is a lot better live thanhe is in the studio. In retrospect that is clearly the point in Diamond'scareer where the hard rock and gospel influences went away and he began asoft rock/pop artist where songs like "Love on the Rocks" and "Summerlove"became the norm. His early songs are arguably his best, but it was notuntil his 1976 album "Beautiful Noise" that Diamond ever had an album goplatinum.
To his credit Diamond does come up with songs that meet the narrativeneeds of the film, not that this is a reason to watch the movie, so do notaccuse me of advocating you do that. There is no reason for you to seethat "You Baby" is part of an awkward homage, for lack of a better word,to Jolson in black face. Also worked into the mix are some traditionalJewish songs, "Adon Olom" and "Kol Nidre/My Name Is Yussel," and Diamondmakes an earnest attempt to do them right. The resulting mix might beuneven, but there are enough solid songs here to make this an aboveaverage Neil Diamond album.