At 67, Diamond still has a No. 1 in him

At 67, Neil Diamond still has a No. 1 in him

Special to The Star

Neil Diamond has sold more than 125 million records and has headlined moneymaking arena tours for decades. Yet Diamond still has some uncertainty when there’s a new album to do.

“You always have that lingering doubt when you take on a project, because I’ve been doing this since I was 16 years old, and you just never do know whether something is going to come out,” Diamond, 67, said in a teleconference with music writers.

“You can make all the plans, and you make the commitments, and you sit down with your guitar, and you hope that something worthwhile starts to take shape. So that was a real high, because I liked the songs that were coming, and it was very encouraging and gave me a lot of hope. It was a natural high.”

Diamond’s attitude was confirmed with “Home Before Dark,” his second effort with uber-producer Rick Rubin. Their first CD, 2005’s “12 Songs,” sold nearly 600,000 copies, which made it the most popular Diamond CD since “The Jazz Singer” in 1982. “Dark” did similar numbers. Furthermore, the week of its release in May, it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts.

That was the first time in Diamond’s career that he has had an album reach that peak, and he’s surprised and pleased with the accomplishment.

“Well, I didn’t actually think it was my first No. 1,” Diamond said. “Somehow, in my mind, I don’t know what the opposite of a state of denial was, but I thought for sure I had a No. 1 album somewhere along the way. I thought ‘Hot August Night’ was No. 1, but then I was told it only went to No. 2, so I was crestfallen.

“(But) it’s a nice feeling to be at No. 1. Also, I’m told that I’m also the oldest performer on the Billboard charts ever to have a No. 1 album, which amazes me. I don’t feel that old. I feel very young, but it’s nice to feel that in this market that’s filled with young people, or seems to be aimed at young people, that an old geezer can come along and knock a few of them off their perches and say, hey, here’s for the senior citizens, and we can kick a little butt, too.”

As for his unusual relationship with Rubin, who is better known for his work with rap and metal acts, Diamond said Rubin understands one of the most important principles of record production.

“Really the best thing that he does and the wisest thing he does is to stay out of the way as much as possible,” Diamond said. “He leaves it to the musicians and the engineers and the artists, and, in this case, the artist/songwriter, and he will drop in comments along the way, some spoken to the group as a whole out in the studio, and some directed quietly to each individual person if he has something to say.

“I think his strongest attribute is knowing when not to say anything and let the music take its own course and develop and grow of its own natural power. He lets it happen, and that, to me, is a great talent.”

Diamond is touring behind “Home Before Dark.” The tour has not been without its problems — he had a bout with acute laryngitis that led to some fans wanting refunds from an August show in Columbus, Ohio — but the huge crowds are still there, even though most of the new material is largely acoustic with no drums.

“I do a bunch of songs from the new album, and a couple from the ’12 Songs’ album, but maybe with the exception of (the song) ‘Home Before Dark,’ I don’t do them quite as spare or as sparse as they are on the album,” Diamond said. “I’ve put a little Latin pizzazz into ‘Pretty Amazing Grace,’ which I like a lot and it’s fun to do. The other song is ‘Don?t Go There.’ It’s pretty much as we do (it) in the album. They seem to fit very well. The audience responds very well to them, and I like doing them.”

The rest of the show has a new look.

“I think my lighting director really outdid herself this time and came up with some spectacular looks, as well as very intimate moments, because the music is varied and it goes to both of those spectrums,” Diamond said.

“Basically I’m trying to cover a lifetime of music and to be as close up to the audience as I possibly can. So the stage and the lighting and the choice of the songs that we use in the set, and the sequencing of the songs are all based on that … connecting with the audience in a way as best I can really.”

another honor ahead

Neil Diamond’s next big career honor will come Feb. 6 when he receives the MusiCares Honors Person of the Year Award.

The show, which will feature performances by Diamond and celebrity artists singing Diamond songs, is an official part of the 51st Grammy Week Celebration. Proceeds from the annual event benefit MusicCares’ mission to help musicians in times of financial, medical or personal crisis.

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