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A Star Falls Back to Earth

Neil Diamond - 12 Songs
3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Feb. 18, 2006
Neil  Diamond

Review by Brad Walseth

Less a true return to form than a welcome baby step in the right direction, singer/songwriter Neil Diamond has emerged from the self imposed exile of big-time "stardom" with a set of pleasant acoustic pop numbers sure to produce a smile of relief and recognition from fans of the artist's early work.

Under the guiding hand of producer Rick Rubin, who similarly reenergized the career of the late Johnny Cash, Diamond has been persuaded to shed most of the faux serious histrionics that have marred his output since his wife encouraged him to become more of an "entertainer" at the expense of his songwriting. The results, beginning around the time of "Hot August Night," were big hair, sequined jumpsuits, and over-produced music.

Forgetting the simple 3 chord pop songs that made his initial fame, Diamond became almost a parody act, called the Jewish Elvis by detractors. But Diamond's early work is often pretty decent tin-pan alley craftsmanship ("I'm a Believer"). Songs like "Play Me" and "Stones," despite some lyric missteps, are worthy contributions from the 60/70's singer songwriter era. And most interestingly is the artist's sometimes perverse POV ("Shiloh" - about a lonely young boy's imaginary friend, "Cracklin' Rosie" - a song about under aged Indian youths drinking cheap wine).

Songs like "Oh Mary" and "Captain of a Shipwreck," produced with minimal backing from an all-star group of studio musicians, nearly recall the glory days (unfortunately sans the pevrersity), while "Hell Yeah" tries and falls just short of repeating "I Am I Said" with appropriate middle-aged angst aplenty. "I'm On To You" successfully brings Diamond into a jazzy, bluesy, Leonard Cohen setting; and "Save Me a Saturday Night" shows that he can still spread the cheese with the best of them (remember "Song Sung Blue"?). Forcing the "entertainer" to take up his guitar again was yet another coup for producer Rubin, and although many of the songs on this release fall under the heading of merely pleasant, one can look forward with hope to future release from this star who shines most brightly when brought back down to earth.

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