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Neil Diamond
12 Songs
Sony Records

On his steady climb from small bars to sold-out arenas, Neil Diamond had an uncommonly broad appeal. His base was undoubtedly the quietly yearning housewife, who swooned at his baritone sincerity. But he was also able to snag the fickle frat party crowd along the way, who drunkenly bellowed the "oh-oh-oh" of "Sweet Caroline", each enjoying the irony of singing the song that their mothers loved best. These are the riches of a long musical career - a fan base that spans generations, proving that you have the mettle to endure a fall from fashion only to emerge again stronger than before. Durability affords a certain amount of creative freedom to the artist; including the freedom to get back to where you started.

Diamond's latest album, 12 Songs, is his attempt at doing just that. It's confessional, stripped of most cosmetic over-production, and has an organic feel that was certainly not a trademark of many of his previous records. 12 Songs has that barroom feel. Acoustic guitar, a little piano, and some instruments that are not staples of the Diamond repertoire are prevalent on this album. It has all the intimacy of a Wednesday night bar gig, with none of the secondhand smoke.

Diamond still writes lyrics that are as hairy-chested dramatic as ever they were, and likely as emotive. Songs like "Evermore" and "Oh Mary" will remind you of the smoky-eyed Diamond of erstwhile cheesy album covers - but as you smile at the camp, you also appreciate the candor. As he has always done, this guy is crooning from the heart and he writes a catchy song. Brian Wilson makes a cameo on "Delirious Love", giving a patented Beach Boys tinge to the already unique Diamond sound. But the song that strikes the hardest chord is "Hell Yeah", a Sinatra-like anthem of a life well lived. Diamond sings with characteristic gusto, prematurely self-eulogizing: "He found the life that he was after / Filled it up with love and laughter /Finally gotta it right and made it fit/ Hell Yeah He Did". It's the kind of song you hope you can write when you are his age.

In listening to this disc, you won't be shocked that it's Neil Diamond. This is not a reinvention; it's a re-emergence - it's the Neil that always was, out of the bright lights and after the hot August nights. It's the comfortable blue jeans he would rather have been in all along. In some of the songs there are echoes of Diamond-gone-by, which is a good thing. Because if Neil can't be Neil then what's a frat guy/housewife to do?

-Philip McCluskey

Track Listing:
1. Oh Mary
2. Hell Yeah
3. Captain Of A Shipwreck
4. Evermore
5. Save Me A Saturday Night
6. Delirious Love
7. I'm On To You
8. What's It Gonna Be
9. Man Of God
10. Create Me
11. Face Me
12. We

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