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DIAMOND RETROSPECTIVE IS GOOD BUT NOT TOTALLY RETRO

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NEIL DIAMOND; "The Greatest Hits 1966-1992" (Columbia). * * * 1/2

I have a good half-dozen "greatest hits" albums by Neil Diamond, including in that number a few of his landmark live recordings. Record companies are hard-pressed, over a period of years, to keep such packages "accurate" when a star's career spans a quarter-century, as his has to date.So, to coincide with his latest, already phenomenally successful world tour, due in Salt Lake City in October, Diamond and Columbia have produced "The Greatest Hits 1966-1992." The 37-track overview nicely supplements those other collections.

And "supplements" is the operative word here.

For despite the title, these are not necessarily the versions you heard on the radio 20 years ago or thereabouts. A full dozen are recent live versions, some of them quite good. These include such reworked essentials as "Sweet Caroline" and "Cracklin' Rosie." Two others - the No. 1 "Song Sung Blue" and "Play Me" - are new recordings of the old hits.

For all intents and purposes, then, half of "The Greatest Hits 1966-1992" represents newly recorded, not vintage, material by Neil Diamond.

That said, the expansive album is a fine addition to the canon. The earliest selections, like "Solitary Man," "Cherry, Cherry" and "Kentucky Woman," were the ones that won me over lo these many years ago. Diamond was the epitome of the late-'60s singer-songwriter, with a hint of the rebel, the introspective loner, the seeker. He evolved into the contemporary equivalent of a writer of semilush "standards," but I don't hold that against him.

The live tracks, captured during performances in Los Angeles, Dublin and Minneapolis, recast music from the period when he recorded for Uni, now MCA Records, from 1968 to 1972. If you want the originals from this pivotal era, check out MCA's "Neil Diamond: His 12 Greatest Hits." In fact, almost all of the songs in this collection are available in smaller packages. The Bang Records era (from 1966 and into the '70s) is presented on a Columbia album called "Classics" and his later singles can be found on Columbia's "12 Greatest Hits, Volume 2."

Which is not to say these new live versions aren't worth having - the Dubliners joyously sing long on "Sweet Caroline," and Diamond revamps his old "Red Red Wine," giving it the Caribbean lilt UB40 employed in the late-'80s cover that topped the charts.

The original singles resume in 1973 and include "Be"; "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," with Barbra Streisand; the three hits from "The Jazz Singer," and a few of his '80s releases. And as a bonus, there's a new duet, Diamond and Kim Carnes having a good time with Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel."

Yes, "The Greatest Hits 1966-1992" more than adequately surveys Diamond's impressive career, but don't dive into it expecting to hear all of the hit singles in their original incarnations.