Neil Diamond: 12 Songs (4 stars out of 5)

Neil Diamond: 12 Songs (4 stars out of 5)
Diamond at his beston album of new songs.

Jim Abbott | Sentinel Pop Music Critic
Posted November 25, 2005

If Neil Diamond were fairly judged by the long list of his songs that are deeply rooted in the DNA of American pop culture — “Sweet Caroline,” “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” “Solitary Man,” among many others — the guy wouldn’t have to contend with the persistent notion that he’s a kitschy punch line.

But life is not fair, and there is The Jazz Singer, after all. So it is nice to see Diamond back in the spotlight with a solid collection of new songs polished and produced by Rick Rubin, who famously resurrected Johnny Cash’s career in the 1990s.

As anyone knows who has listened to Cash’s American Recordings work, “polish” isn’t the right word for what Rubin brings to the process. “Care” would be better because he demands the best.

That was obviously the case on 12 Songs, which brushes against Diamond’s pop sensibility even as it pushes it gently in new directions.

The opening “Oh Mary” fits into the latter-day Cash template: It’s a slow ballad that anchors Diamond and his acoustic guitar against a backdrop of grave piano tones.

It only hints at the surprising depth of the material that follows: “Hell Yeah” is a benedictory look back at a life well-lived that Diamond delivers with warmth and defiance.

“So if they ask you when I’m gone, ‘Was it everything he wanted, when he had to travel on? Did he know he would be missed?’ You can tell them this, ‘Hell yeah, he did.’ ”

Rubin bolsters Diamond’s belt-it-to-the-back-row crescendo with strings on that song. At other points, he finds the right tone with brushes on a snare drum, muted horns or splashes of slide guitar.

Diamond is accompanied by an ensemble of A-list hired guns including Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, keyboardist Billy Preston and guitarist Smokey Hormel of Blasters fame.

The best thing about 12 Songs is how the ingredients complement Diamond’s strengths. The understated ballads allow space for that distinctive gravelly baritone, which sounds genuinely invested in ballads such as “Evermore,” a stately love song reminiscent of the gentle power of “Solitary Man.”

Diamond’s knack for melody is allowed to surface on “Save Me a Saturday Night,” a three-chord ditty nestled into a cushion of acoustic guitars, organ and bells. It’s a gem on an album with plenty of them.

To hear excerpts from this and other recently reviewed CDs, go to and click on Music. Reviewing key:

***** excellent, **** good, *** average, ** poor, * awful

Click to rate this post!
[Total: 0 Average: 0]