A Winter wonderland of holiday releases

A Winter wonderland of holiday releases
Joel, Diamond, Osbourne have the bases covered for your shopping list

By Austin Powell

The last way for a solo artist to find an easy spot on Christmas wish lists is through creating an album, preferably after several terrible ones, that is either a return to roots or a groundbreaking release. For Neil Diamond, either would be a tough feat.

Let’s face it, Diamond’s extensive career and discography has had little to no impact on the average college student, save for his hilarious cameo in the comedy “Saving Silverman.” Even then, the laughs seemed more at Diamond and company than with them.

In fact, despite releasing more than a dozen albums, his last influential and critically acclaimed album, “The Jazz Singer,” was released before most college students were even born (1980).

So what makes “12 Songs” (Columbia) relevant to today’s youth? The long-bearded spiritual guru that walks beside Jay-Z in his black-and-white video for “99 Problems,” that’s who.

That man is Rick Rubin, and since co-founding Def Jam with Russell Simmons in 1984, he has been the producer and career catalyst for everyone from Run-DMC, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys to Rage Against the Machine, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Slayer, System of a Down and Tom Petty. He’s also the man responsible for revitalizing Johnny Cash’s career, though that particular instance emphasized well-chosen cover songs.

Rubin’s effect here is obvious. Nothing sounds slick. There are no jewel-encrusted jackets or blow-dried hair in the studio photos, and it’s reflected in “12 Songs.”

The effort is controlled, with an emphasis placed on Diamond’s most passionate vocal performance to date. “Man of God” finds Diamond at his lyrical best as he testifies his own personal belief system, backed by a gospel-inflected organ. “Hell Yeah,” a ballad to his own life and his time spent, further connects the listener with the performer as it comes across on record the same way it would if he was performing on an old wooden porch somewhere.

Though early versions contained that nasty secret spyware, they also featured two bonus tracks, including an inspirational duet with Beach Boy Brian Wilson, which made buying this album slightly dangerous – but necessary.

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