Diamond finds "Home" field advantage with Rubin

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Neil Diamond doesn’t mess with success.

Singer Neil Diamond performs on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" at NBC studios in Burbank December 17, 2001. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

That’s why he “never doubted” he’d work again with producer Rick Rubin, who steered their 2005 collaboration, “12 Songs,” to a No. 4 debut on the Billboard 200, Diamond’s best since “The Jazz Singer” in 1982. The album has sold 571,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Diamond, 67, says he and Rubin began working on “Home Before Dark,” due May 6 via Columbia, “within weeks after ‘12 Songs’ was finished. All of those questions you have when you work with somebody new were yesterday’s news. We knew what we wanted to do.”

So after “14 or 15 months” of writing, Diamond hit the studio with Rubin and an improvisational-leaning band featuring guitarists Mike Campbell, Matt Sweeney and Smokey Hormel and keyboardist Benmont Tench. Dixie Chicks vocalist Natalie Maines chipped in on “Another Day (That Time Forgot),” Diamond’s first major duet with a female singer since “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” with Barbra Streisand in 1978.

As with “12 Songs,” the material on “Home Before Dark” is drumless, with Diamond’s still-commanding voice front and centre and his rhythm guitar, which he hadn’t played in the studio for three decades, guiding the way for the other instrumentalists. On “Whose Hands Are These” and the title track, Diamond hammered out the final arrangements (with Tench and Sweeney, respectively) after the regular session was over for the day.

“Working with these guys, and having Rick’s ear, made it a great deal of fun,” Diamond says. “Of course, I had to have the enthusiasm of the band, and their consent, in a way. When I played them a new song, I wanted them to love it and feel where they belonged in it. I was lucky enough to receive that on all of these songs. They’d be playing along and looking for their places even before I’d finish the first run-through. It was magic, in a way.”

Diamond’s summer tour starts May 24 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and touches down in North America on July 19 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Included in the itinerary is an August 23 date at Boston’s Fenway Park, which Diamond announced with a surprise video appearance on the scoreboard during an April 8 Red Sox game.

“I always like to include songs I haven’t done in the show in a while,” he says, declining to reveal specifics but promising that material from “12 Songs” and “Home Before Dark” will be on the set lists.

In the time since Diamond and Rubin worked on “12 Songs,” the latter became co-head of Columbia, but Diamond insists the conversation never turned toward business.

“We talk about the music and the recordings, and that’s what our relationship is about,” he says. “His work with Columbia is his own challenge, and I wish him well with it. But my relationship with him is all about the art of making great records.”