After celebrating his past with an assortment of honors and the new retrospective "The Very Best of Neil Diamond -- The Original Studio Recordings," some new music awaits Diamond on the other side of a greatest hits tour slated for next summer.
Diamond tells Billboard.com that "the songs are just coming like they always come... I've got six or seven that I really love, so I'm on my way." And following in the footsteps of his two Rick Rubin-produced sets, 2005's "12 Songs" and "Home Before Dark" from 2008, Diamond describes the new material as "very, very basic. There's no bells and whistles. It's very straightforward, and I like that...They're good songs, and I think people will be able to take them to their hearts immediately -- or reject them, immediately. There won't be any equivocation at all with these."
Diamond says that after his tour wraps on Sept. 1, he'll "jump into these songs in earnest and complete the ones that I really love and just put myself in a writing mode and a recording mode." As to whether Rubin will be involved again, Diamonds says, "Maybe. We're going to meet and talk about it. I think he would do a heck of a job with these songs, so we'll see what he thinks about it and we'll decide then."
Until then, Diamond is happily immersed in what he calls "a year of acceptance," which began with his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in March and continued at the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors, which were held last weekend in Washington D.C. The ceremony, during which Smokey Robinson and Lionel Richie serenaded Diamond with his songs, will be broadcast Dec. 27 on CBS.
"It was a big thrill," says Diamond, who was feted along with Yo-Yo Ma, Sonny Rollins, Meryl Streep and Barbara Cook. "I felt as though I didn't have to work for the first time; you just go there and people congratulate you and cheer you and say nice things about you and give you a medal, and you meet the president. I brought my kids and a few of my grandkids, so it was a memorable moment for everyone."
Diamond put plenty of memories into "The Very Best of...," a 22-song set that spans his career from 1966-2005 and marks the first time he's had studio recordings of hits from all four of his labels -- Bang, Uni/MCA, Capitol and Columbia -- on the same disc. "I love the album," says Diamond, who's nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Liner Notes for another compilation, "The Bang Years," and also wrote notes for the new collection. "There had to be some kind of meeting of the minds and agreement between the record companies...but now they're all on one disc and it's like revisiting old friends. These songs and recordings have been through so many permutations of the years, so it's nice to have them all in one place, the originals, and just sit back and enjoy them. It's a nice little package if you want to get back to the real heart of what I've been doing."
Diamond will be doing just that on the road next year, though he also promises "some surprises" that may follow in the mold of his recast version of "I'm a Believer" that appeared on his 2010 "Dreams" covers album. "We did it as kind of a very gentle, reflective ballad, and it opened the song up completely," he explains. "It opened my eyes about doing doing that or certainly exploring that with some of the other songs as well."
Diamond adds that the tour, which starts June 1 in Sunrise Fla. (with two February shows in Honolulu), will also have a fresh look. "We're working on some visual things that I haven't tried before," he says. "I haven't made much use of the video screens other than to (show) close-ups in the show. I think we're going to use it as a palette this time, add a little video to heighten the experience. And then we'll just do the songs great; I just want to leave it all out on the stage and leave everybody happy. We've been able to do that so far and I suspect we'll be able to do that again."