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Glen Campbell - The conveyer of pure feeling and emotion
on 11 August 2013
It was no less that the great Damien Jurado who recently stated that "When I die, I want to be buried with my Glen Campbell record collection. That's how much I love Glen Campbell". It's a sentiment many share and fully endorse. There is no need to dwell here on the fact that this is Campbell's 65th album and that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's realistically curtailing any significant further musical output. Some may also point that it re-treads familiar ground in revisiting his greatest hits. But it is the nature of the return to these classics that makes this record so special. It was Johnny Cash in American Recordings who set the template for such records and in "See you there" initially recorded during the 2011 "Ghost On The Canvas" sessions, Campbell has matched that standard. This is no maudlin outing that dwells on his debilitating condition but a celebration of some of the greatest songs penned in pop music sung by one of its most distinctive and best voices.
In one sense this is Glen Campbell for the alternative country generation. Nowhere is this clearer than on his take of Jimmy Webb's greatest song "Wichita Linesman". The original lush string arrangement is absent and instead Campbell sings it as a barroom ballad. His voice still sounds like musical honey and the depth that comes through age adds a juggernaut sized level of poignancy to a great performance. Those other Webb classics are equally well done. "By the time I get to Phoenix" is stripped back to gentle acoustics with the odd strain in Campbell's performance adding to the songs sense of regret. "Galveston" is even more bare bones with the slide guitar and accordion lending it a much more contemplative and reflective feel.
The sterling producers of this record, Dave Darling and Dave Kaplan, have recognised that the key instrument on the album must be Campbell's voice, thus the excellent version of "There's no me... without you" from the last album works brilliantly. The most radical overhaul is on "Rhinestone Cowboy" which is given a Neil Young style arrangement underpinned with a basic distorted electric guitar strummed in the background and it succeeds. The version of "Gentle on my mind" does suffer somewhat from the clipped vocal delivery that Campbell employs but its solid enough. The almost Roy Orbison style dramatics conveyed on the original "Hey little one" are replaced by a much more mellow tone, yet at aged 77 Campbell's ability to hit those high true notes is just remarkable. This reviewer has never been a huge fan of the song "True Grit" but at last this version captures it in a pure country setting and is a big highlight on an album packed with them. The one new song on the album is the religious "Waitin on the coming of my lord" and is a full restatement of Campbell's faith. It is the gorgeous version of "Postcard from Paris" that adds the icing to the musical cake, a beautiful song that finds a fresh way to spell love. For good measure on the Amazon download there are three additional versions of the songs on "See you there" with "Waitin on the coming of my lord" given a full Mariachi treatment.
Glen Campbell is a musician who has paid his dues and much more. He has gone through dark days and made his share of headlines. As his recording career draws to a closing chapter it would be easy to slip into pure reverence. In the same vein the context of his illness could produce condescension by awarding a sympathy mark or two. To stress however this is a superb album that sees Campbell performing in his own impeccable style with a voice that remains a wondrous instrument and conveyor of pure feeling. Some will favour the original versions of these songs, and opinions of this album may differ vastly. Yet "See you there" is an album of an artist determined to squeeze out all the fantastic songs he has left within him and in in doing so demonstrate that musical integrity is the mark of true greatness.