By Matthew Cheadle
THE RHINESTONE COWBOY’S LAST RODEO
You may think of Glen Campbell as one purely for the pipe and slippers brigade, an easy-listening armchair crooner who picked up where Petty Como left off, and has no real place in the pantheon of rock music.
Well, you’d be wrong.
Whilst it’s true to say that pretty much all of his ten US number ones were of the mellow variety, Mr. Campbell’s contribution to music goes far deeper than that.
He has released more than 70 albums and sold in the region of 45 million records. He had an enormously popular show on CBS from 1969 – 1972, has won countless awards including four Grammys in 1967 in both the pop and country categories, and as if that wasn’t enough he starred alongside John Wayne in ‘True Grit’ in 1969 for which he received a Golden Globe nomination, and sang the theme song to boot.
On top of all this, he was also (and still is) a fine guitarist who played on numerous sessions in the sixties as part of the famous LA session gang, The Wrecking Crew. You can hear his work on tracks by Jan & Dean, The Beach Boys, The Monkees and even on Elvis’s “Viva Las Vegas”.
So he’s had a bit of a career then. Now at the age of 77 and, sadly, in the grips of Alzheimer’s he has this week released what will almost certainly be his last studio recording, ‘See You There.’
Five of the twelve cuts were recorded during sessions for his 2011 set “Ghost On The Canvas,” and whilst these newer songs are all good in their own way, it is the remaining seven, re-workings of his greatest hits, that will be of most interest to fans. And what re-workings they are.
Much in the same way Rick Rubin did with Johnny Cash on the series of albums before and after the country legend’s death, producers Dave Kaplan and Dave Darling have transformed these songs by use of a more stripped down and organic approach to the music and production.
Take the Jimmy Webb penned classic, “Wichita Lineman.” Whilst the signature baritone guitar licks remain, gone are the sweeping strings from Campbell’s beautiful 1968 version, replaced by an evocative tremolo guitar, pedal steel, and a touch of Hammond organ. The more intimate instrumentation has its own plaintive beauty that further emphasizes the reflective mood of the song.
The same is also true of another Webb masterpiece, “Galveston”. A dusty, dobro slide guitar and accordion helped along with simple percussion replace the sumptuousness of the original. Although this new version is by no means melancholic, the less is more approach feels far earthier and adds poignancy to the mournful lyric “I am so afraid of dying”, especially given Campbell’s frail health.
Surfdog Records (who released the album) founder and co- producer Kaplan said of working on the record, “I knew I wanted the record to be very intimate — not necessarily having strict rules about every song being acoustic or stripped down — but certainly the overall theme and goal was to be very personal and intimate.”
Nowhere is that more illustrated than on the penultimate track, Campbell’s 1975 showstopper “Rhinestone Cowboy”.
Gone is the middle of the road, upbeat optimism of the original.
Stripped bare right down to a single distorted guitar, it sounds more like an elegy, a moving tribute to a life in show business that seems sadly to be at an end. One would never have thought this song to be a tearjerker, but the emotive performance and the poignancy of the lyric certainly produce a lump in the throat.
Ironically, Campbell is still in good voice. Certainly his timbre sounds older than the fresh-faced boy next door of yesteryear, but there’s a wisdom in his tone and delivery that sits at ease with the mood of the record.
‘See You There’ is a fitting, moving, and beautifully crafted swansong for a talent and career of which most would be jealous.
Let’s hope Glen Campbell is with us for a while longer.