Brother Rubin’s Traveling Salvation Show
His contributions to the lexicon include “I’m a Believer” and “Red, Red Wine.” Brash movies like Pulp Fiction and Saving Silverman slyly honor his legacy. Of the Holy Trinity of Jewish-American Adult-Contemporary Megastars — Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand, and Neil Diamond — only Diamond escaped the 1970s with any hint of hipster credibility.Nevertheless, Diamond’s sound has gone as soft as that of his contemporaries. Enter producer Rick Rubin, creator/recreator of musical careers and secret Diamond admirer. Where Rubin helped connect one old pro (Johnny Cash) to new listeners using other people’s songs, on 12 Songs Rubin dares Diamond to make the same connection with his own words.
12 Songs begins with “Oh Mary” and “Hell Yeah,” recalling a street guitarist with enough passion to overcome any struggles with timing and memorized lines. Later, Diamond unleashes his inner Dylan on “I’m On To You” and “What’s It Gonna Be,” and unconsciously references Oasis’ “Lyla” during “Delirious Love.”
This is Neil Diamond trading decades of schmaltz for a bit of heart and soul, so accept the occasional mistake like “We,” the happy-go-lucky lark closing the album. Thankfully, he has star session players — including one of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, unofficial fifth Beatle Billy Preston, and Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson (on a bonus version of album track “Delirious Love”) — who recognize his sacrifice and further validate this new work.
Neil Diamond isn’t the antihero Johnny Cash was, so 12 Songs won’t develop a mythology like the Rubin-Cash collaborations. All Diamond wants and needs is a second chance. He has it now, and for that he can thank himself as much as Rick Rubin.