Neil Diamond still doing his sensitive best

He’s the Bedazzler in human form, a walking, talking rhinestone, his voice a husky summation of all that glitters.

Even Neil Diamond’s very name sparkles.

Back to that voice, it’s like Old Spice — familiar, inviting, perhaps a bit much for some. It’s something that, at the right moment, can warm the blood like a campfire.

Diamond’s brassy baritone powers a repertoire that’s become sequin-encrusted comfort food, chicken soup with star-spangled broth, chock-full of velvety platitudes.

“I hear you wonderin’ out loud, are you ever gonna make it? Will you ever work it out? Will you ever take a chance?” Diamond sang to a packed MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday night. “Just believe you can.”

The song was “Hell Yeah,” a ruminative look back on a long life by a self-professed “old dreamer” who mostly sings of love in times of chaos.

“If you’re asking for my time, there isn’t much left to give you,” the 67-year-old sang during a spare, unadorned number that began as a flickering torch song before gradually building into a hard waltz, like a kettle brought to a slow boil. “Been around a good long while.”

“Hell Yeah” is one of the centerpieces of Diamond’s superb 2005 disc “12 Songs,” which marked a bit of a creative rebirth for the singer that continued on last year’s equally wizened and winsome “Home Before Dark.”

Enlisting rock super-producer Rick Rubin to strip his songs down to their marrow, the albums are mostly stark, acoustic-based, black and white portraits of Diamond at his most unencumbered.

As good as the material is, Diamond realized it was still going to be a tough sell to an audience that expected him to be a classic pop jukebox.

“You can sit back and relax and enjoy, or you can take a potty break,” Diamond said by way of introducing a slew of songs from his latest album, forgiving the crowd for any impatience in advance.

It wasn’t necessary — from the understated purr of “Don’t Go There” to the subdued whimsy of “Pretty Amazing Grace,” Diamond’s newer numbers were some of the evening’s best.

And besides, the audience never had to wait long before Diamond aired this chestnut or that.

The breezy bop of “Cherry Cherry,” ripened with a solo from nearly every member of Diamond’s large backing band, the horn-fired swing of “Sweet Caroline,” the heart-in-throat clarion call of “America” and the come-as-you-are “Forever In Blue Jeans” were all met with the kind of open-armed embrace that long lost loved ones are greeted with.

Yeah, it’s easy to caricaturize Diamond’s tunes as being overly maudlin, a Hallmark card with a beat.

And truth be told, the guy doesn’t just wear his heart on his sleeve, he practically floats beneath it like it was some giant hot air balloon.

But wistfulness is this guy’s stock in trade, and the feeling he attempts to conjure at one of his shows is akin to the ripe sentimentality of flipping through old high school yearbook photos.

He turns memory lane into a bustling highway packed with fellow travelers.

“Look how far we’ve come,” Diamond sang on the sad-eyed “September Morn.” “So far from where we used to be.”

But on this night, that distance was reduced to the few feet that separated Diamond from his audience’s out-stretched arms.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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