Producer Rick Rubin made himself the go-to guy for late-career musical reinvention with the 1994 Johnny Cash album American Recordings, a spare, flash-free masterpiece that put Cash and his music front and center. Rubin never found another subject as rich as Cash, probably because there aren't any. But Neil Diamond's stark, Rubin-produced 2005 album 12 Songs, while not an American Recordings-caliber classic, was even more revealing than Cash's work with Rubin. Where Cash was a neglected master whose classic work had never been forgotten, Diamond's run of hit singles had been overshadowed by show-biz gaudiness and dreck like "Heartlight."
With 12 Songs, Diamond delivered a defiant, yet surprisingly mellow set dedicated to the theme of not going gently into that good night. Home Before Dark provides more of the same. It's sure to please its predecessor's fans, but the filler-to-killer ratio here is skewed a little too far in the wrong direction. Late-album tracks like "Slow It Down" and "The Power Of Two" sound interchangeable. But while the Diamond who wrote insanely catchy songs like "Kentucky Woman" and "Cherry, Cherry" never shows up, the ruminative crooner of "I Am I Said" is well represented by "If I Don't See You Again," "Pretty Amazing Grace," and "Another Day (That Time Forgot)," a nicely matched duet with Natalie Maines. Diamond's battle against time and cheese rages on.