Neil Diamond, "Dreams"
Given his role as one of pop's most respected songwriters, Neil Diamond might be expected to fill a covers album with underappreciated obscurities by tunesmiths less highly regarded than he. Well, perhaps next time. On "Dreams," Diamond hunts bigger game, offering up stripped-down renditions of such pop-canonical evergreens as Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," the Beatles' "Yesterday" and the Eagles' "Desperado." He even tackles Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," which has been covered so many times in recent years that its opening arpeggios are beginning to sound as familiar as those in "Stairway to Heaven." Diamond's vocals are still strong enough that he has no trouble selling the material, and the intimate, largely acoustic arrangements stave off soft-rock schmaltz throughout. But only rarely does he bring anything fresh to these warhorses, as in his appealingly wry take on Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)" and in a pair of recent Randy Newman songs ("Feels Like Home," "Losing You"), both of which exude a touching late-career tenderness.