CD Review of Home Before Dark by Neil Diamond
Recommended if you like
Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Beach Boys
Label
Columbia
Neil Diamond:
Home Before Dark

Reviewed by Red Rocker

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I
t was the season of the first Super Bowl. “The Sound of Music” won Best Picture. Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. The year was 1966, and a Russian-Polish Jew named Neil Diamond escaped Brooklyn and released his first album, The Feel of Neil Diamond, after writing “I’m a Believer” for The Monkees a couple years prior. A mere 42 years later, the Chiefs aren’t any good, the musical has been replaced by the sequel, and President Johnson’s party has seen just two Democrats succeed him since. Pretty much everything has changed – except for the unmistakable songwriting prowess of Neil Diamond.

“Making music is my life,” Diamond writes in the new liner notes, “the one constant I can’t live without. It’s more than a desire or yearning: it’s a necessity.” And so, at the ripe young age of 67, Diamond (a.k.a. the Basher) marches back into the studio, again under Rick Rubin’s tutelage and with the best of Tom Petty’s legendary band, to write one more chapter, Home Before Dark. Yes, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench might be thinking déjà vu 1982 all over again (the year they helped Petty craft a similarly-titled Long After Dark). The titles, however, are the only thing those two projects have in common, since this new Diamond album is as stripped down and basic as anything he’s ever done. There’s not a drum to be found. The production is so simple that some might wonder why a sonic stud like Rubin is even needed. Maybe he was challenged by the ultimate “less is more” test?

Diamond penned every song here, and plays nothing more than an acoustic guitar throughout. Tench’s keyboards are subtle but vital, especially on a wispy little number like “Don’t Go There.” Campbell’s guitar and bass parts are equally substantial, as are those of Smokey Hormel. A plethora of strings and horns are employed -- it is a Neil Diamond album, after all -- but they never strong-arm the acoustics or piano at the foreground. On at least one track, “One More Bite of the Apple,” a stronger dose of strings or even percussion seems necessary. It’s the kind of grandiose Diamond anthem that comes off as an unplugged version of something bigger and better.

But with brilliantly softer compositions like “If I Don’t See You Again” and the stark duet with Natalie Maines, “Another Day (That Time Forgot),” Home Before Dark doesn’t want for anything. This is Neil Diamond at 67. Is it quieter and gentler than most of his stuff? Perhaps. Does it sound like a lullaby compared to even his most recent work (2005’s 12 Songs)? You bet. But the songwriting is still there, strong and dialed-in as ever. The emotion, the passion, the yearning – they’re all essential elements, like instruments themselves, of this and every Neil Diamond venture. Whether he’s serenading 80,000 in the Rose Bowl with “America” or quietly seducing Lucie Arnaz with “Hello Again” as The Jazz Singer, The Basher utilizes more emotional instruments than anyone, and that’s a formula that won’t change over another 42 years.

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