CURTAIN CALL Glen Campbell

As the famed guitarist and song
stylist prepares for his final bows, let’s pause for a moment and think about
what that really means.

 

BY
RICK ALLEN

 

Glen
Campbell never became a darling of the too-cool set that embraced Johnny Cash,
rightfully, but who could not also see the true folk musician in someone like Merle
Haggard. Likewise, Campbell
has never been appreciated by the crowd that thinks a performer cannot be popular
and valid at the same time; too bad for them.

 

Campbell is one of the best rock and
roll/country guitarists ever, a veteran of the famed collection of studio
musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. Other Crew members, Carol Kaye, James
Burton, Leon Russell, Mac “Dr. John” Rebbenac to name a few, accrued much more
hip cachet than he did. Had Campbell
continued to record material like “Gentle On My Mind” and even some of the
better Jimmy Webb pop classics like “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Wichita
Lineman” or Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights,” he might have done better with
the NPR crowd. But his reliance on songs like “Rhinestone Cowboy” and the
admittedly artificial and overblown production of it (and others like it) meant
that few of Campbell’s
albums could be listened to without hitting a “Rhinestone Cowboy” or other such
musical bump or two.

 

On
what’s being billed as, most likely, Campbell’s
final album, Ghost On The Canvas – which
is to be accompanied by a farewell tour; the musician’s been diagnosed with
early stage Alzheimer’s – there’s considerably less artifice.

 

 

 

Campbell shows exceptional depth with brilliant takes on “Nothing But The Whole Wide World,” written by Jakob Dylan,
“Hold On Hope” by Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard and some magnificent
pieces of California
pop music including a Paul Westerberg composition called “Any Trouble.” (The
title cut, another Westerberg number, is slo good but marred slightly by so-so
lyrics.) Campbell’s
voice is as robust and clear as ever and he is likely playing a significant
amount of guitar although there are no specified credits. “Strong” reflects
(musically) his time with the Beach Boys but the entire album has got “Beatles”
written all over it. Producer Julian Raymond seems to have cut his teeth on
post-Sgt. Pepper’s Beatles music,
including the solo albums of Lennon and Harrison. One can imagine Jeff Lynne
gnashing his teeth at hearing that someone got this stuff right. The guitar
solo on “There Is No Me…Without You,” probably from Billy
Corgan, Marty Rifkin, Rick Nielsen, or Brian Setzer who all play guitar on the
cut (Setzer, Chris Issak and Dick Dale also add guitar to Teddy Thompson’s “In
My Arms”), is an elegant cop of George’s Harrison’s in “Something” while
the drums are pure Ringo. The tune extends Beatles-like into infinity a la “A Day in the Life” and provides
some of the album’s best moments.

 

Campbell chose to go out big. The
orchestration is big, the production here is big, almost “Rhinestone Cowboy”
big, but tempered by taste and restraint, and the album only improves with
repeated listening. Most important, the themes are big, life-and-death-big, as
is befitting an artist who knows he is near the end of his career. Like a
battered athlete he will also outlive it and not necessarily under the best of
circumstances. As the world watches Campbell
ring down his own curtain will there be a rediscovery, a re-evaluation of a
great but often dismissed career? Will people learn about Glen Campbell as they
seem to have learned about Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones, that a superiorly
talented pop artist who doesn’t write much of his or her own material (Campbell
did co-wrote several of the cuts here) can be just as great – often greater –
as any of the so-called “hipper” acts?

 

It’s
all showbiz folks, all of it. No matter how tattooed, pierced, smack-addled,
in-you-face, amped-up-to-10 the act is. Even that bearded, bobbled headed,
slacks/vest-wearing emo vocalist singing about growing up in simpler times out
in the Midwest is in showbiz. They are all
song and dance men (and women), as Bob Dylan once referred to himself. The best
of them, like Campbell, realize that and they consider entertaining you to be a
worthy pursuit. Sometimes they do it with some damn good songs, too, and
underneath the rhinestones is a person concerned with living and dying just
like everyone else.

 

With
Ghost On The Canvas Glen Campbell has
chosen to share such concerns, but like the pro he is, he’s done so without
sacrificing a drop of entertainment value. Campbell is at the top of his game
even at closing time. If there’s no more to come then this is as good a spot as
any to ring down the curtain.

 

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