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Neil Diamond

12 Songs (Columbia)

Producer Rick Rubin's attempt to revitalize Diamond's critical reputation à la his Johnny Cash collaborations isn't a fool's errand. Before he became a baby-boomer fave, Diamond was a first-rate songwriter capable of fusing woody pop with baritonal introspection. Too bad Rubin focuses so relentlessly on the latter and gives short shrift to the former.

Tracks such as "Hell Yeah" are mid-tempo or slower lopes in which Diamond growls authoritatively over bare-bones accompaniment framed around his strumming. Many of the songs have their melodramatic moments, but their similar pacing becomes a drag over the long haul, as does Rubin's decision to tamp down Diamond's hookier instincts. That's especially unfortunate given the effectiveness of the few tunes that show off his finger-poppin' side. The irresistible "Delirious Love" and the semi-jazzy "I'm On to You" could have been smashes during the "Solitary Man" era.

A full album of numbers like these would have justified the historical revisionism Rubin seeks. Instead, the cuts are bright spots in a worthy effort that bogs down in its own seriousness.

 
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