Forget for a moment that you're a sophisticated consumer of music with a mercilessly low tolerance for schlock: Neil Diamond--"Cracklin' Rosie" and "Forever in Blue Jeans" be damned--is going to break your heart. 12 Songs, the hotly anticipated collaboration between Rick Rubin and the formerly jumpsuited Don Juan, exceeds all hopped-up expectations, deflating fans' concerns that their hero might fall flat on the frames of his huge sunglasses in attempting to turn out something hip and harnessing what sounds like decades' worth of untapped, superior songcraft instead. There it is on "Captain of a Shipwreck," a declaration of love that skims the poetic with its promise that "If you're captain of a shipwreck/I'll be first mate to your shame," and around it comes again on "Hell Yeah," a life-affirming, rumor-debunking anthem fairly bursting with bravado (think "I Am...I Said," but with context). Bravado aside, expect no pulled punches here. Rubin's masterful approach is to let Neil Diamond do what Neil Diamond does best, and that is to strap on a loose guitar and let those teflon-ravaged vocals ride over it. Some rides, of course, are smoother than others--Brian Wilson's guest spot on bonus track "Delirious Love" is so melodic and harmony-rich it ought to have sails attached, while "What's It Gonna Be" sounds like something snatched in a pre-dawn lark from a Leonard Cohen disc. All of it is lovely, every last track. A respectful rescripting of the legend, a la the Rubin-aided recasting of Johnny Cash after 2002's American Recordings, is in order. --Tammy La Gorce
From the Artist
"After the first few meetings," writes Neil Diamond in his revelatory liner notes to 12 Songs, "I realized (Rick) loved music in the same way I did. For both of us it was visceral, passionate and could even be an elevating experience. It turned out that we served the same mistress - music, and that was to become our first real connection."
According to Neil, "I locked myself in the recording studio with a whole box of number 2 pencils, a big stack of my trusty yellow legal pads and a funky old three-quarter size Martin Guitar with an E minor chord that could break your heart….Rick was determined not to rush the process, but to wait until we got to the essence of the songs I was working on. I loved the sheer freedom of creating music for its own sake."
One of the year's most heavily-anticipated new releases, 12 Songs pairs the pop music icon with legendary producer Rick Rubin. Producing a Neil Diamond album has been a long-time dream for Rubin, whose extraordinary resume spans the history of hip-hop from LL Cool J to Jay Z, the world of hardcore rock from Slayer to System Of A Down, and the pantheon of mythic stars from Tom Petty and Donovan to Mick Jagger and Johnny Cash's immortal Grammy-winning American Recordings series.
"Most of the songs were recorded with Neil playing and singing at the same time," said Rick Rubin in a Rolling Stone article (9/22/05) profiling the producer, "and it's a different animal. It's taking him back to being more of a singer-songwriter. He really blows me away."
When it came time to record 12 Songs, Rick Rubin assembled a sympathetic ensemble of musicians to capture the essence of Neil Diamond's extraordinary new songs, each of them a finely-wrought gem, soul-searching, honest, yearning, and powerful.
A core group of musicians made up of Mike Campbell (guitar) and Benmont Tench (piano/organ) from Tom Petty's Heartbreakers and guitarist Smokey Hormel (Beck, Tom Waits) and other musicians including the renowned Larry Knechtel (piano) and Billy Preston (organ) played on the album.
The track listing for 12 Songs is: "Oh Mary," "Hell Yeah," "Captain of a Shipwreck," "Evermore," "Save Me A Saturday Night," "Delirious Love," "I'm On To You," "What's It Gonna Be," "Man of God," "Create Me," "Face Me," and "We." A special digipak edition of 12 Songs features two bonus tracks: "Men Are So Easy" and an alternate version of "Delirious Love" with guest artist Brian Wilson.
"….judging by eight finished tracks," wrote Lorraine Ali, previewing 12 Songs for Newsweek (August 1, 2005), "this is the best work Diamond has done in 30 years."
01. Oh Mary
02. Hell Yeah
03. Captain Of A Shipwreck
05. Save Me A Saturday Night
06. Delirious Love
07. I'm On To You
08. What's It Gonna Be
09. Man Of God
10. Create Me
11. Face Me