Rhythm & Views 

Neil Diamond

It would be easy to call this a sequel to Neil Diamond's last CD, the refreshingly heartfelt 12 Songs, his first collaboration with big-time producer Rick Rubin. But that would be selling this effort short. Way short.

Where that recording was a compendium of some interesting tunes, this is a full-fledged concept album, a collection of narrative songs that reads like an anthology of intense, autobiographical short stories held together by common threads--love, fame, aging and a deep longing to understand his place in the universe.

There is nothing that resembles a hit single or even the traditional verse/chorus/bridge song format. These tunes instead are laced with soulful melody lines that seem to come out of nowhere. Three songs in particular anchor the project. "Pretty Amazing Grace," "Don't Go There" and "Another Day (That Time Forgot)" all showcase Diamond's development as a deep thinker/writer, as well as Rubin's deft touch in layering keyboards, bass, background singers, tastefully understated strings and reeds, and a host of acoustic guitars.

While it would be easy to namedrop parts of the supporting cast (Heartbreakers Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell, and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines for her exquisite duet on "Another Day"), this is a strong ensemble effort with many additional players. While Diamond's voice leads the way, the backup and production give the musical landscape its rich colors and depth.

As for Diamond, it's as if he has recanted on whatever deal he cut with the devil in exchange for Las Vegas and superstardom: He has been returned his very soul.

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