American/Columbia - 2006 - 57 minutes

Having existed for over 30 years as a Greatest Hits artist, Neil Diamond makes the brave and uplifting choice to go full circle with '12 Songs'. Out go the huge backing bands and studio gloss, in comes producer Rick Rubin and an acoustic sound that's autumnal, intimate and defiant.

Comparisons will be made with the work Rubin did with the late Johnny Cash on the 'American' albums. But Diamond writes all his own material and whereas Cash's career was in the doldrums before that collaboration began in 1994, Diamond is as big as ever, so his decision to throw caution to the wind is even more refreshing.

Diamond's craftsmanship is often startling, proving time and time again that simplicity is brilliance without a fanfare, he and Rubin have created an album which sounds like it could have been recorded in a day - it flows that well.

Only on 'Evermore' does some of the pomp of old make it into the mix, elsewhere  every song is played low-key and just like 'Nebraska' is the Springsteen album that even non-fans can find shelf space for, so too will '12 Songs' work its way into the most unlikely of record collections.

Former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth once said that if a band couldn't play a show under a single light bulb, they shouldn't really bother. In his own way Diamond has echoed a similar sentiment from the confines of a studio. He's given us one of the surprises of the year - and a couple of its best songs.

Harry Guerin

Tracklisting: Oh Mary - Hell Yeah - Captain of a Shipwreck - Evermore – Save Me a Saturday Night - Delirious Love - I'm on to You - What's It Gonna Be - Man of God - Create Me - Face Me - We - Men Are So Easy (Bonus Track) - Delirious Love (with Brian Wilson) (Bonus Track)