- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2015

He has entertained legions of fans for decades, won Grammys and other accolades galore and sold millions of records, but one thing Neil Diamond will not be doing anytime soon is resting on his laurels.

To mark his 74 years on the planet, Mr. Diamond this month is set to kick off a 74-city world tour that includes an April 4 stop at the Verizon Center in the District of Columbia.

“One of the things that motivates me now [is that] time is limited, and I’m touring now because I’m in good voice,” Mr. Diamond said at a press conference. “I don’t know if I’m going to be in good voice in five years.”

Mr. Diamond will be touring behind his latest album, “Melody Road,” his 32nd and the first of his original songs since 2008’s “Home Before Dark.”

“I always have that thing that hurries me up and says, ‘Don’t wait around and don’t waste time because it’s fleeting, and if you have any songs that are still inside yourself, you’d better get to work,” he said.

Of the unceasing march of time, he said: “That whole concept has become part of me as I get to be older. It’s a more insistent whisper in my ear [saying], ‘Do your work, write your songs and don’t waste any more time.’

“I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing,” he said. “When I finish an album, within a matter of weeks I start writing again. I can’t help myself. So for the last 45 years, each of the writing periods have led to records, and each of the records have, more or less, led to some kind of touring activity.”

“Home Before Dark” was a sparse production, with songs performed acoustically and without drum accompaniment. For “Melody Road,” Mr. Diamond was eager to bring back the noise.

“I wanted to fill out the record. I wanted to use other instruments,” he said in response to a query from The Washington Times. “I thought that [producer] Rick [Rubin] did a wonderful job. I wanted to hear electric guitars, I wanted to hear horns and electric instruments again, to do them in my own way, but to bring them back into my records.”

Thematically, “Melody Road” is far more upbeat than “Home Before Dark,” dealing less with equivocating on meaning and loss and more with the hope of new love. To wit, Mr. Diamond married music film producer Katie McNeil in 2012.

“There’s no question that my own personal life and my own personal experience is what gives rise to this,” he said of the new album’s pop optimism. “I listen to it and say, ‘Yes, this is hopeful.’ ‘Melody Road’ is really a place in the mind, especially a songwriter’s. It talks about what music is to me and how I find it and how it comes to be.

“The songs are pretty positive; the songs are autobiographical. There’s some pain involved, but that’s part of life too.”

Although the concert’s set list remains a secret, Mr. Diamond let on that the roster will be filled with cuts from “Melody Road” alternated with fan favorites.

“This show will probably have more songs in it than any show I’ve ever done because I don’t want to take out ‘I Am I Said’ or ‘Sweet Caroline’ or ‘Holly Holy,’” he said. “And I also want to make sure that I do a fair share of the new songs and keep the audience involved as well. It’s going to be a big show in every way.”

Indeed, few shows are bigger. Half a century ago, Mr. Diamond took the stage with just his guitar for company. Now, the road crew employs upward of 100 people.

“The audiences have been there, thank God, and they’ve been with me, and that is something that trumps anything, any other consideration,” Mr. Diamond said. “I need to have the audience in my corner for the show. I never expect it, but in the secret part of my mind, I count on it. I want the audience there with me, and I know if they are, they’re going to get everything that I can give.”

Although a native of Brooklyn, New York, Mr. Diamond has had an especially strong relationship with Boston. “Sweet Caroline” is played before the bottom of the eighth inning during every Red Sox home game at Fenway Park, and Mr. Diamond himself performed the perennial song April 20, 2013, five days after the bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon that killed three and injured hundreds.

“It was written in a very odd way,” he said of “Sweet Caroline.” “It came out at a point in my career when I desperately needed to have a song become a big pop hit. I was down recording in Memphis, and it came to me. It just fell into my lap, this little, simple song. I was back, my career was back, and I owe it to that song.

“It inserted itself into the [public] consciousness,” Mr. Diamond said of the hit. “It’s been sung by presidents of the United States, it’s sung in China at cricket games, it’s the unofficial closing song of Oktoberfest in Germany, and guess what, I had nothing to do with any of that.”

His optimism, his openness to new experience and a young marriage are all informing his outlook — as a singer, a songwriter, a husband and a member of the human family. Although raised Jewish in New York — indeed, when first achieving stardom, he was often referred to as “the Jewish Elvis” — Mr. Diamond stressed that as he has aged, he is far less concerned with religion or ethnicity than with the content of a person’s character.

“I don’t judge people anymore by those kinds of broad categories,” he said. “I judge them by the people that they are. I’ve learned that I can be close to and love people from all over the world who are very, very different, but the common denominator is that you have to understand the person, whether it’s a man or a woman, whether it’s black or white.”

Mr. Diamond hopes the optimism of “Melody Road” will translate into an exhilarating experience for audiences on his tour, which will touch down in America, Europe and Australia.

“It’s where I am now, and it’s a very hopeful place, and I feel very good about that,” he said of “Melody Road.” “I hope it reflects itself in the show because that’s the story I want to tell: that life holds all kinds of wonderful, mysterious surprises, and where I’m at now is a great surprise for me, and I want to reflect that in the shows.

“I’m just taking advantage of every moment that I have to make music,” Mr. Diamond said. “I think that’s my purpose here: to make music and to share my music with people. I’m on a mission to do that.”

• Eric Althoff can be reached at twt@washingtontimes.com.

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