Release Date: Oct 21, 2014
Record label: Capitol
Genre(s): Vocal, Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock
Leaving behind Columbia Records along with his latter-day collaborator producer Rick Rubin, Neil Diamond sets up shop at Capitol -- which now belongs to Universal Records, who owns his classic recordings for Uni and MCA -- and teams with producer Don Was for 2014's Melody Road. Diamond may have left his label of 40 years, but in an odd way, Melody Road is a return home after his stark wanderings of the 2000s. Rubin encouraged Diamond to be spare, sometimes recording him with little more than an acoustic guitar, but Was -- who is assisted by Jacknife Lee -- coaxes the singer/songwriter to bring back the schmaltz, an essential element of Neil's glory days that was largely ignored on the Rubin records.
It’s good to be the queen: You can do whatever you want. But does that mean you ought to? On Aretha Franklin’s new album, the soul diva land-grabs territory claimed by some of her ladies-in-waiting. It features her takes on the hits most associated with the competition — including Chaka Khan.
We could question the gods' decision to make only one Neil Diamond, but maybe one of him is all this planet can handle. At 73, the man still touches insane amounts of warm. There are no duds on his first all-new album since 2008 – just 12 stripped down soft-rock tracks, not too heavy on the strings, hitting consistently hard whether Diamond plays the winsome crooner ("Something Blue") or the bummed-out belter ("Alone at the Ball").
There’s soppy, there’s schmaltz, and then there’s the latest from Neil Diamond. He remarried in 2012, and much of Melody Road radiates honeymoon period: trumpets tootle cheerfully, guitar melodies beam, cherry blossom falls from flutes, and Diamond delivers platitudes such as “Marriage is not an easy thing/ But look at all the joy it brings” with balmy bonhomie. Sunny Disposition and In Better Days have all the substance of soapy, made-for-TV movie romances; Something Blue and Nothing But a Heartache are bleaker, but only to sharpen the contrast with what it is to find that one special person who “took me to a place I never knew”.
Since 2008’s Home Before Dark, his second Rick Rubin-produced career-overhaul set, Diamond has grabbed fewer headlines with typical acts-of-a-certain-age standby releases: a Christmas album and a covers collection. Melody Road is a much more substantial proposition, albeit one that pointedly references the country grandeur of his early 70s high watermarks. With Don Was taking over from Rubin in the producer’s chair, Diamond delivers a set of songs that echo down the years.
Whatever inspiration Neil Diamond might have picked up from Rick Rubin, who produced his previous, generally well received two albums of original material, seems to have dissipated on the singer/songwriter’s first set of new material in six years. It’s hard to say if shifting producers to Don Was and returning to the Diamond’s more bloated adult contemporary sound, after successfully stripping things down for Rubin, is the culprit. But this 11 song disc gets off to a slow start and goes downhill from there.
Two years ago, shortly after he married for the third time, Neil Diamond told The Times that he intended to write his next album "on the run." He owed his new wife a honeymoon, he said, and she'd given him the OK to work while the two were traveling. Judging by the love-drunk tone of "Melody Road," Diamond followed through on his plan. "Marriage is not an easy thing / But look at all the joy it brings," he sings in "Marry Me Now." Elsewhere, the 73-year-old rhymes "what a little bit of love can do" with "took me to a place that I never knew." Imagine scribbling in a notebook aboard a yacht somewhere; these are precisely the sort of lyrics one might create.