If it's kinda, sorta music-related, we'll review it. This week: Rick Rubin's moxie.

Neil Diamond hasn't touched a guitar in three decades. But for the surprisingly moving 12 Songs, released this week, the legendary songwriter and Caesar's Lake Tahoe veteran is completely dialed in, finger-picking his six-string and singing as if he actually means it, not as if he's crooning for a convention center's worth of Shriners. Who do we have to thank for this? You guessed it: the man who gave us Run D.M.C., Weezer II, and Jay-Z's "99 Problems," that bearded audio alchemist, producer Rick Rubin.

This takes real moxie: Here's a guy who cut his teeth on acts like Slayer and System of a Down coaxing a stripped-down album of unadorned ballads out of a 40-year veteran considered by many to be the very embodiment of camp and schlock. Quite a bold move, even for a guy who once signed Andrew "Dice" Clay to a major label and convinced Johnny Cash to tackle the works of Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails.

Does it pay off? You bet. It's been more than 30 years since Diamond sounded as spirited and sincere as he does on "Delirious Love" and the smoldering "What's It Gonna Be," which find the savvy sexagenarian backing his familiar croon with a blistering slide guitar. So whether Rubin had to hide his singer's Geritol or subject him to indie-rock fruitcake Rivers Cuomo's strict diet of vipassana meditation -- the same new-age magic that produced "Beverly Hills"! -- he's accomplished the (almost) unthinkable: He's turned a sequin-shirted showman from the senior circuit into a relevant artist again. Score one for the Rick.

 
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