Home Before Dark

Neil Diamond

When you’ve enjoyed a successful four-decade musical career with 125 million records sold worldwide, multiple Top 40 hits, the requisite awards and sold-out shows where ever you play, it might be hard to decide where to go next. For Neil Diamond, it’s been rather simple. Literally. The man responsible for stripping away the excess that once shrouded Neil Diamond is none other than Rick Rubin, a producer known for pulling the best, most visceral performances out of legendary artists like Johnny Cash and Tom Petty. Rubin and Diamond first worked together in 2005 on an album of all new and original tunes called 12 Songs. Some critics called it the best thing the singer had done in 30 years. That was enough to bring the two together again for Home Before Dark. It’s anything but a distant second.

How can you go wrong when the first song is over seven minutes long? “If I Don’t See You Again” starts off like something from Neil Young’s Harvest, but it evolves and explores the melody, harvesting the mood for absent sentiment. Keyboardist Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) gives the number those special light bits of color in an otherwise straightforward acoustic number, while Diamond recites an almost allegorical tale of love and redemption. From there, the record shapes and shifts its weight to light and medium fare. The rapid fire acoustic propulsion from Diamond and an army of fellow guitarists Mike Campbell (another Heartbreaker), Smokey Hormel, Matt Sweeney, Jonny Polonsky give songs like “Pretty Amazing Grace” and “No Words” an unusual and extraordinary edge.

Similar to his role in the Heartbreakers, Tench’s tender piano lines help lift those moments of poignancy like “Whose Eyes Are These” and “Another Day (That Time Forgot),” a duet Diamond cut with Dixie Chick Natalie Maines. While this reviewer concedes to the fact that Maines can sing, she tends to overplay her card vocally, apparently unaware she’s recording a record with one of the most talented and prolific musicians on the planet. Nevertheless, the main course is one of mostly upbeat and inspirational biscuits, fresh from the oven. When the closing notes of the title track ring out before fading away, you feel like you just finished an extremely satisfying meal in a high-end, upscale restaurant. Which isn’t to suggest there’s anything particularly edible about Home Before Dark. Rick Rubin would probably understand.

~ Shawn Perry

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