May 22, 2005


Neil Diamond, Unplugged and Unsequined (JOHN LELAND, 5/22/05, NY Times)

IN the recording studio where Neil Diamond works, one hallway is lined with 37 of his gold and platinum records, opposite a wall of his album covers: four decades of American mainstream pop, facing off with four decades of American male hair.

Last week, Mr. Diamond huddled in this studio with the producer Rick Rubin, best known for his work with hip-hop and alternative rock acts. Mr. Diamond, 64, wore a tan jacket, baseball hat and loafers; Mr. Rubin, 42, wore a giant white T-shirt, sandals and the long hair and beard of a Biblical prophet or a ZZ Top extra.

Even by the corporate-merger models of the contemporary music business, Mr. Diamond and Mr. Rubin make an unlikely couple. Mr. Diamond's glossy, not-quite-rock productions have sold 120 million copies and emboldened men the world over to wear spangled apparel. Mr. Rubin, who spent Mr. Diamond's heyday attending heavy metal concerts on Long Island, had a recent hit with Jay-Z's "99 Problems," which uses language not found in any Neil Diamond song.

Yet here they were, finishing an album, as yet untitled, for release this summer. They were working on a song called "What's It Gonna Be," on which Mr. Diamond plays acoustic guitar, something he has not done on a record for decades. The song was spare and unpolished, and the two were discussing whether it needed a second guitar to steady the rhythm. "I just want to make sure we don't lose the loneliness of it," Mr. Rubin said.

"So you're saying we can leave my guitar in," Mr. Diamond said, describing his playing with a pejorative best omitted here.

"I love your guitar," Mr. Rubin said, repeating the same adjective. "The only person who won't like it is you. People will hear it and say, 'That must be him playing. I never heard that before.' "

If he can produce a Neil Diamond disc that's half as good as the Johnny Cash ones then Mr. Rubin really is a genius.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 22, 2005 12:00 AM

Instead of teaming up with Mr. Rubin, Neil Diamond needs to collaborate with a singer-songwriter even older than Neil is: Leonard Cohen.

Posted by: John J. Coupal at May 22, 2005 4:04 PM