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4.3 out of 5 stars95
4.3 out of 5 stars
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I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Neil Diamond's music. Some of his earlier work, where it is all acoustic guitars, soaring melodies and introspective, romantic lyrics are timeless classics and yet there is the other side of Neil - the artist prone to misguided, overblown, bombastic... well, cheesiness. I don't think there is any other artist in my collection who I feel so polarised about and yet he is well worth following because he is one of a handful of truly great, classic songwriters of his era still making often incredible music.

Such an album was '12 Songs', his first collaboration with Rick Rubin. I absolutely adored that album and I'm more than happy to see a continuation of the same feel, style and producer, resulting in the brilliant 'Home Before Dark', a collection of understated, wonderful songs featuring an untouched Diamond voice which always sounds genuine, backed by mostly acoustic instrumentation and a desire to make music with integrity, feeling and heart.

While this is still an 'easy' listen, it has a very positive, feelgood flavour running throughout the album and still manages to be very engaging and, indeed, exciting listen, 'Don't Go There' being a perfect example which makes the most of the dynamics offered by the choice of instruments. In fact, Diamond's voice is perfect for this style of music because his voice sounds great while 'cruising' and yet when he wants to, he accentuates key moments in some of the songs (such as 'One More Bite Of The Apple) by giving it glimpses of the power you know his voice still has, proving that less sometimes really is more.

It is very difficult, given the quality of this album, to pick out highlights, but 'Pretty Amazing Grace' has to be up there as one of the picks, as does 'Another Day (That Time Forgot)', which features some beautiful vocals by Natalie Maines and truly sumptuous piano flourishes. 'Act Like A Man' boasts a memorable melody and could easily have, with a slightly different treatment, have been one of Neil's big hits in the 1970's. The guitar work on it is really pleasing as well.

I would have to say that this album, along with '12 Songs', has to be the highlight of Neil's career so far. While I wouldn't dispute the fact that he has written at least a dozen songs more memorable than all of those contained on this collection, they are scattered throughout his career and, as far as studio albums go, consistency has been a real problem. Even 'Stones' - which I consider to be his most consistent release before '12 Songs' - has patchy moments, whereas this album doesn't have a single chink in its armour.

Of course, credit for this excellent collection of songs has to go to Neil himself, but the influence of Rick Rubin cannot be understated. He has taken a man with a massive songwriting talent who, sometimes, hasn't been able to realise his ideas in the best, most aesthetically pleasing way and has been able to bring the very best out of him, resulting in two of the most consistent albums Neil has ever made. Lovely, moving stuff and highly recommended.
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on 22 May 2008
EVERY SONG ON THIS ALBUM IS A REAL GEM. THIS ALBUM HAS BEEN WELL WORTH WAITING FOR. NEIL DIAMOND IS A CLASSIC SONGWRITER/SINGER AND SHOWS ONCE AGAIN HOW BRILLIANT THIS MAN STILL IS. THE BEST SONG ON THE ALBUM IS "AMAZING GRACE" AND NEIL SINGS IT WITH SUCH HEART. CANNT WAIT TILL HE RELEASES ANOTHER ALBUM!!!!!!
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on 15 June 2008
Not since Diamond's 1976 Beautiful Noise have I so loved an album. This is truly his best effort. The top tracks are "Pretty Amazing Grace" and "Another Day," though in my opinon there's not a bad one in the bunch on this even-keeled recording.

The album has a nice flow and nothing too jarring. The overall feelgoodness of the music, accompanied by some of the most excellent guitar playing around, guarantee this to be a winner. Usually with most albums, there's one or two songs you buy it for. Not so with this one. Like "Aja" by Steely Dan, this is great from first song to last.

Even if you're not a Neil Diamond fan, you'll love this album. Why it isn't played more on the radio is beyond me.
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on 12 July 2008
Another new release, another raft (?) of 5 star Amazon customer reviews.

Is it only me that feels that the majority of reviews on Amazon are given by die-hard fans who would give a 5 star review for a CD of their beloved artist breaking wind for 2 hours. The trouble is that this makes a mockery of the whole review process and ends up hindering rather than helping the average purchaser separating the Tom Waits CDs from the Robbie Williams CDs. The only solution I find is to look at all reviews by a given person before taking any notice of a given rating in an attempt to see if they have good taste, well, similar taste to yourself anyway.

Anyway, back to the new CD. I thought 12 Songs was a phenomenal album, a stark, emotional affair full of powerful, melodic songs. By contrast the music on Home Before Dark is more laid back, rhythmic and ephemeral; something to have on quietly in the background while you work. The exception is the opening track If I Don't See You Again which would have felt quite at home in 12 Songs. From that point on the music loses it's intensity and edge and becomes, well, for me anyway, largely unremarkable; an easy listening experience. Too add to this many of the songs feel overlong and outstay their welcome lacking the brevity and tightness that made 12 Songs so good. This is not to say that Home Before Dark is a bad album, it isn't, it's just a little bit, well, of a let down compared to the previous CD.

It's also extremely annoying to find that the CD/DVD contains two bonus songs (a fact I missed until after I had purchased the regular CD) one of which, Without Her, is one of the strongest tracks on the album in my opinion. Hey ho.
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on 15 May 2008
As I review this I note that Neil Diamond has just entered the Billboard 100 at number 1 for the first time in his career. This is an amazing turnaround for such an established artist. Not that many years ago he was perceived as someone who was decidedly showbiz and the purveyor of cheesy overblown extravaganza.

For true fans this was something that hurt, although there was certainly more than a grain of truth in the assessment. It has been said many times in previous reviews, a lot of them mine, that he peaked in the mid 70s, by which time he had written and recorded a catalogue of classic material.

Where did that man go? Well it seems that he simply took the easy option of treating his craft as something that could be turned on every now and then and ignore the critics...........and fans, as long as he still sold out every time he toured.

Why has he returned? Quite simply Rick Rubin! If it had been Diamond who had been chasing Rubin you might have thought that suddenly he had woken up and decided to redress the balance of credibility that had eroded the last 30 years of his career. But no.........it was Rubin who hounded Diamond.......thank goodness.

Diamond was like a man who had been in a deluded bubble for too long until Rubin stuck a pin in the inflated ego that "yes men" had helped to build up. Fortunately this bubble didn't just burst, it burst with such a bang it shook the very foundations of Diamond's comfort zone and woke him up to the reason why so many loyal fans kept sticking with him, even though the quality was dropping. Inside, everyone hoped or dreamt that one day he would produce the kind of material that could happily stand alongside his earlier classics..........you know what they are.

12 Songs made him work harder than he had done in a long time on writing quality songs that would bring him praise around the world for what he had originated and not regurgitated. Why? Because Rick Rubin had a first class reputation within the industry and wasn't going to put out anything that would embarrass him. Suddenly Diamond wasn't looking at pleasing the bosses in the music industry who promote and distribute CDs, now he had to satisfy Rubin and from that moment he started to write music that meant something to him. Just like when he had to crack the market in the early 60s, he had to have something that other people didn't............talent! He always had it, but he had to rediscover it.

The good news is that having found it again on 12 Songs, he has nurtured it even more on this album.

Musically it is far more melodic and interesting than his previous one. It is dark and self searching, but you get the feeling that everyone is far more comfortable this time around.

Personal favourites after a few listens are:

If I don't see you again...........a classic in the making that will be around for a long time

Pretty Amazing Grace.............melodic and a welcome change in mood

Don't go there............opens a little like Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown" and morphs into a latter day Leonard Cohen, complete with Cohen signature female backing singers. Dark and humorous, a terrific track.

Forgotten...............great bluesy acoustic guitar accompaniment with a lovely organ sound in the background

Whose hands are these................good track with nice changes

No Words.......................First rate

It's a very good album and one that will inevitably get better after more listens. Like the last album, it is not easy listening first time around. But like all quality albums they grow and stay with you.

I hope that he records again with Rubin but doesn't try to do a third stark album again. I think in the hands of Rubin there is room for lighter material to creep in every now and again. A mix between this and Serenade and Moods would be terrific.

As for the DVD, I liked it. I think that he can forget about covering Paul Simon material in future, The Boxer was not a good cover. However I enjoyed watching him and the musicians playing their understated stuff in the studio.

Of the bonus tracks, Without Her and Make you feel my love are OK, but not show stopping. Lulu did a better version of the first and Bryan Ferry nailed the other one on his recent Dylanesque CD.
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on 19 May 2008
With one or two exceptions, most notably The Jazz Singer in 1980, Neil Diamond's musical output since 1976's Beautiful Noise has been dragged down by over-production and self-indulgence. It was only in 2005 when he was persuaded by Rick Rubin to allow Rubin produce what was to become 12 Songs that we were given a glimpse, once again, of the enormous songwriting talent that is Neil Diamond. That album stripped away all pretension and put Diamond's voice front and centre singing songs that were beautifully written and delivered with honesty and integrity. Home Before Dark is their second collaboration and, if anything, produces even better results. Here we have songs written from the heart, lyrically deeper than Diamond has ever gone before, melodically crafted to perfection, sometimes soothing, sometimes heart wrenching, sometimes joyful, sometimes painful: always striking powerful emotional tones. The opening track, If I Don't See You Again, running to a full seven minutes sets the tone. It is elegant and beautiful and soul-searing in its final crescendo. Pretty Amazing Grace is a hymn to the power of love and hooks the listener from the start and never lets go thereafter. It is performed masterfully by Diamond. Another Day (That Time Forgot) is a magical duet with Natalie Maines. The pitch of her voice counterpoints beautifully with the gravelly emotion of his and this song, paradoxically, is both pretty and guaranteed to tear your heart out. Forgotten, Don't Go There, and the title track are all stand-outs on a recording that contains no fillers. All in all, if you are a fan of Neil Diamond, the song-writer, you should love this collection of songs. If you have previously been turned off his music by the popular perception that his material is over the top and schmaltzy, do yourself a favour and give this recording a listen. You will be very surprised by what you hear
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on 3 June 2008
At the end of the day, I can do without music thats all wham bam window dressing, but leaves me just as strung out as before I put it on.
'Home Before Dark' doesn't fall into that category.
This is a good album. Perhaps not as stark as the accomplished '12 songs', but don't get me wrong, This album is pretty minimal in places also.
But I Think this is possibly more soothing.
The songwriting and lyrics, I'm very impressed with also.
Neil Certainly hasn't compromised in quality since releasing the acclaimed '12 songs', as I say, I think this is even better.
Theres some sensitive, warm songs on here.
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on 6 June 2008
Bought the album. Been buying ND albums since 1974! Saw him live for the first time in Glasgow last night at Hampden Stadium. The weather was terrible , the music, well words won't describe it...pure Diamond. Just like his new album. Can't get pretty amazing grace out of my head. This is not really a sing a long but a more serious work that I feel that many years ago just would not have made it. It just goes to show that Diamond can write some cracking pieces of music, and long may he continue to do so. Hot August Night is still my favourite!!
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on 23 June 2008
I was going to start with the cliche "a return to form", but frankly this offering is so far beyond Neil Diamond's previous achievements for a studio album that the phrase doesn't fit. A collection of lyrical, thoughtful, poignant songs musing on life, lost love, faith, hope and fear, it well deserves its number 1 slots. None of the real anthems of the past, in favour of solid vocals and sharp backings, with a few melodic gems including "Pretty Amazing Grace" and "Don't Go There", these songs have stories to tell and do so beautifully. Far from being too long, the six minute opener "If I Don't See You Again" is worth every second. "Act Like a Man", "The Power of Two" are other highlights and the superb title track, "Home Before Dark" is one to make you want to start all over again. Have a glass or two of Mr Diamond's red wine and let these beautiful songs wash over you...
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"There are two types of people in the world: those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't." - quote from the movie "What About Bob?"

If you're in the latter category, please read no further.

If you're still with me, this is a "pretty amazing" album from the evergreen Mr. Diamond, taking us back to his music of the seventies, namely the "Song Sung Blue" and "Sweet Caroline" period. There's also no complaining about the length of the album, as there are five songs that are six minutes and above, and only one track below four minutes.

American Idol viewers would have been treated to a live performance of the single "Pretty Amazing Grace", and if you liked that one, you're really going to enjoy this album.

Other recommended tracks are:

If I Don't See You Again - the first song on the album, and the longest at 7 minutes 14 seconds.

Another Day (That Time Forgot) - with Dixie Chick Natalie Maines

Forgotten - lots of guitars

Act Like a Man - a little Moon River, a little Country, pure Diamond

Whose Hands Are These - a folksy, inspiring treasure with heavy guitar and piano backing

No Words - you'll be hooked from the intro (personal favorite)

This is vintage Diamond, and I predict a very good year indeed.
Recommended - just recommended - buy it!!

Amanda Richards
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