Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Glen Campbell -- Meet Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell -- Meet Glen Campbell (Capitol)

Glen Campbell’s comeback is different than those of Johnny Cash or Loretta Lynn, just to name two other country stars from his era (and yes, I know Campbell is more of a pop artist, but he was associated with country too). Cash teamed up with Rick Rubin on stripped down recordings that emphasized his incredibly distinctive voice. Meanwhile, Lynn hooked up with Jack White, who had her write songs and provided a bit of rock and roll energy to the proceedings.

However, Campbell’s collaborators, the production team of Julian Raymond and Howard Willing, wisely decided to make a 1967 style Glen Campbell record in 2008. Other than the lack of Jimmy Webb songs (which would be a great idea for a follow up album), Campbell does what he does best -- interpret songs. And Raymond and Willing make sure that the arrangements are fully fleshed out with ample strings, horns, backing vocals and whatever other sonic embellishments are needed.

This attention to detail would be meaningless if Campbell couldn’t sing anymore. But Campbell has lost only a little of his range and still sounds smooth and energetic. And when he gets that little catch in his voice on his version of Lou Reed’s “Jesus”, it just shows how special of a singer he still is. He is the essence of countrypolitan, balancing polish with just a bit of twang that gives his interpretations of more serious material real gravity.

From the brassy opening number “Sing” (a Frances Healy composition), which hearkens back to Michael Nesmith’s early mixtures of horns and country rock, this album breezes along, really gelling about midway through.

First, Campbell’s familiar guitar playing is supported by an aggressive string arrangement on “Times Like These” (originally performed by The Foo Fighters). Julian Raymond gets extra points for picking out this song, with its simple lyrics that basically state that the time for redemption is now. The underlying arrangement of the song is twang rock a la Tom Petty (and Glen does two Petty tunes on the disc). But the heart of the song is Campbell’s leads (guitar and vocals) and the wonderful strings.

Next, Campbell really burrows into Jackson Browne’s classic “These Days”. This song is conclusive proof that Campbell is a grade A interpreter of songs. Listen to his phrasing and how he varies his energy and emphasis. Meanwhile, the tune itself has a driving on the open road feel that is perfect for Campbell (a la “Gentle On My Mind”). And Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.’s keyboard solo is swell (and please note that fellow ex-Jellyfish-er Jason Falkner plays on this album, and Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander also lurk about, though the liners don’t say exactly where ).

Campbell then connects with Paul Westerberg’s “Sadly, Beautiful”. This song is about a father who never was in his daughter’s life. It’s a song from The Replacements’ swan song LP All Shook Down that I had overlooked (well, that’s true of the whole album). This is a tender and poignant song which Campbell totally inhabits. And the strings are present, but more muted, which is fitting for this track.

Campbell also does U2, John Lennon and manages a version of Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” that, by virtue of a slight change in tempo, makes this vastly overplayed ballad sound fresh again.

One thing about this album that should be noted is that Campbell’s early albums were hodgepodge collections. Between his own material and sessions, Campbell waxed song after song. A hit single or two meant it was time to paste together another LP. Those albums are enjoyable but inconsistent. Here, Campbell was allowed more time to work on these numbers and the result is arguably his best album to date.

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