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Neil Diamond 

12 Songs

An album inspired by the revitalizing makeover Rick Rubin used to jump-start Johnny Cash in his silver years? Yes. A lean on Leonard Cohen in the haunting presence reflected from the songwriting to the photos of the man and his guitar in the liner notes? Sure. But despite the transparencies of Neil Diamond's 12 Songs, this collection of bare-bones ballads puts the wind back in his sails. Thanks are due largely to Rubin's back-to-the-basics production ("Here's a guitar, here's a microphone. GO!").

From the slow-motion boom of "Oh Mary," redemption billows but takes time to materialize. Don't take in this offering too quickly. The beauty and subtle intricacies at work here require the same care and patience with which the songs were created.

With "Hell Yeah," Diamond celebrates his heretofore banishment to the CD collections of randy soccer moms. Here's one for the ladies who have always kept him going. "Delirious Love" taps into the strident pace of his formative years a la "America." Other numbers, including "What's It Gonna Be" and "Face Me" find new depth in the warm and naturally somber tones of his voice. As a songwriter, Diamond stands up to the best. Overcoming his hammy persona with a silver sheen is the kind of miracle Rubin does best, which is precisely why he's the best thing to happen to the "Jazz Singer."

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