Sunday, May 22, 2005

Neil Diamond and Rick Rubin Update

There's a great article in the New York Times about Neil Diamond's collaboration with Rick Rubin. Here's some of it:

Mr. Diamond said that they never talked about being New Yorkers in Los Angeles. "If anything, Rick is further out than L.A.," Mr. Diamond said. "He's into the Far East or something. His head is - it's not here. I can assure you it's not in L.A. He's evolved. He's gone - whew - somewhere else, and it's wonderful. I'd love some of it to rub off on me."

Instead, they talked about music, Mr. Rubin said. Mr. Diamond played Mr. Rubin some old recordings by Jerry Lee Lewis and the Beatles. Mr. Rubin played old records by Mr. Diamond, including some Mr. Diamond had not heard in decades. They continued to meet for months, listening to music and discussing why they liked it, before getting down to work in January.

"We listened back to what made those old records great," Mr. Rubin said. "He got to hear things in a new way. With an artist that tours as much as Neil does, the songs kind of take on a new life, much different from the records. I wanted to go back to the feel of a singer-songwriter, not a performer."

Mr. Rubin said he saw nothing odd about his working with Neil Diamond. "There's always been a balance," he said. "When I was producing hip-hop records people told me I couldn't make heavy metal records. I always liked doing different types of music." He added: "I don't think of them as Rick Rubin albums. I think of it as a really great Neil Diamond album or a really great Johnny Cash album. It's really from a fan's point of view. These are people that I love, and trying to get them to be what I imagine they could be. This is the album I want to hear."

In the studio, it was a day for guitar players, and Mr. Diamond and Mr. Rubin were joined by Mike Campbell, who plays in Tom Petty's band, and Smokey Hormel, who has played with Tom Waits and Beck. Mr. Campbell and Mr. Hormel played on Mr. Rubin's recordings with Cash.

To prepare for this album, Mr. Campbell listened to a lot of Mr. Diamond's early songs, and was surprised to discover that many didn't have drums, just hand-claps. "He told us that was because they couldn't afford a drummer," Mr. Campbell said. "When you think about rock 'n' roll, Neil was there when it started, when it was just becoming rock 'n' roll. There's very few cats who have been around that long."

As they worked, the music's spare feel echoed that of the Johnny Cash albums, though Mr. Diamond sounds more pensive than existentially haunted.
Sounds good to me. I love Mike Campbell.

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