"Longevity" is certainly a word that aptly describes Neil Diamond since he's been delivering hit albums since the 1950s. The list is too long to include, even in part, here but as of 2005 he had sold well over 120 million albums earning him the title of third most popular adult contemporary artist behind Elton John and Barbara Streisand according to Billboard Magazine. So expectations were high for his most recent release, Home Before Dark.
The album's name suits it well. The title track is about returning to a place of comfort and for the longtime fan it will be like a long-awaited trip. There are no real surprises, and the songs seem to follow the classic formula he is known for. Lyrical stories are built around a hook and delivered by his deep, instantly recognizable voice. They are backed with a folksy, jazz arrangement, which is centered, most often, around classic, acoustic guitar. That familiar feel of home is especially prevalent on "Don't Go There" and "One More Bite of the Apple" which immediately take me back to the soundtrack for The Jazz Singer and its songs "Jerusalem" and "You Baby."
Are they exact replicas or reinvented versions? No. However, the theme and sound are similar enough for the songs to feel familiar. It's a formula that works for Diamond. The Jazz Singer soundtrack sold enough copies to be certified platinum five times over and not only did he provide the music, but he stared in the film opposite Sir Laurence Olivier and Lucie Arnaz. It was not a smash hit, but it did help give Diamond recognition, for his music, his stage presence, and his acting ability. It is the first time I remember putting his name and face to the songs he sang. Through the Jazz Singer, I first became familiar with his style and the intimacy of his music.
Diamond chose a similar method to get word out about Home Before Dark, just prior to its release. Back in April of this year, he appeared as a mentor on the hit television show American Idol. After schooling the contests on performance in general, and more specifically performing his songs, he sang the lead single, "Pretty Amazing Grace" the night of the results that week. The appearance was the first time I had heard the single, and I was drawn back into his music, curious what the rest of the album held.
Again, with the entire album, intimacy is a word that rings true. The songs contained here are vignettes, slices of life and honest emotion. Diamond connects with the music in such a way that the listener can't help but feel every emotional nuance. Home Before Dark topped Billboard's hot 100 the second week of its release and comes highly recommended for the long time Diamond fan or those who enjoy his brand of intimate jazz tinged adult contemporary music.
For information and news, including tour dates, please visit his official website. If you missed that American Idol performance, check out the embedded video below.