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Spotlights [Issue # 18 ]
Neil Diamond: Back To Work

By Dean Truitt

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Neil Diamond has reached the Mount Rushmore of hailed artists. Aside from Will Ferrell’s absurdly hilarious parodies and the countless string of Diamond tribute bands, everyone has heard a shamelessly feeble belting out “Sweet Caroline” in a karaoke bar. In the staggering career of Neil Diamond, most people now think of the sequined-shirted man belting out anthems like “Coming to America,” rather than the incredible songwriter. His latest release, 12 Songs, should remind the world that he knows how to craft amazing material without grandiose production behind it.

After playing the final date of a frenetic 120-show tour on New Year’s Eve 2002, Diamond reflects, “All I wanted in 2003 was to rest, relax, and sit outside with the sun on my face doing as little as work as possible. I surprised myself when after just a few short days of quiet bliss; new words and melodies began to creep into my head. I tried to resist, but it was impossible.” Despite his initial desire for an extended break, he immediately began scratching out rough song ideas that he found compelling.

Another auspicious development was the fact that Rick Rubin, the producer mastermind who oversaw great works by everyone from Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Beasties Boys, was very interested in working with Diamond. Upon meeting with Rubin, The Jazz Singer star immediately discovered, “He loved music the same way I did. For both of us it was visceral, passionate, and could even be an elevating experience. It turned out that we served the same mistress -music, and that was to become our first real connection.”

From that point, one would think that Rubin would eagerly sweep the veteran performer into the studio and begin tracking, but the development process for 12 Songs underwent a period of organic growth for the artist. After agreeing to work with one another, Diamond reveals, “Early on, Rick and I would just sit around for hours listening to music like a couple of teenagers. It was a free-for-all. I wanted to listen to rock and roll classics, but Rick had a list of my old records that he wanted to talk about, mostly stuff I hadn’t listened to in years. Things he liked, things he didn’t like, and things he just wanted to know what the hell I was thinking.”

Once they had found common ground for the project’s direction, the songsmith began grinding away at the studio to write a compelling album. Upon playing Rubin his first batch of ideas, Diamond admits, “Rick was determined not to rush the process, but to wait until we got to the essence of the songs I was working on. He wanted these recordings to be as simple and unadorned as possible. They had to be genuine and authentic . . . and me.”

Once the two felt they had a stellar collection of material, Rubin assembled a small ensemble of incredible musicians the help record the album: Mike Campbell, Smokey Hormel, and Benmonth Tench.

Listening to 12 Songs is an inspiring experience. From the way Neil Diamond gently counts in “Oh Mary,” the listener knows he is not going to be hearing an overindulgent affair, but a simple, confessional record. The understated production and Diamond’s distinctive voice render songs like “Evermore” or “Captain of a Shipwreck” as secular hymns. The closing song, “We,” is bouncy anthem of philosophical simplicity. Neil Diamond’s artistry has come full circle and he has made not only one of the year’s best albums, but one of the finest works of his career.

12 Songs

Back To Work Neil Diamond 12 Songs

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