REVIEW: Glen Campbell – ‘Adiós’

LifeInASong_UK

Adios, the final album from one of country music’s greatest performers and symbols, is the end. It’s amazing Glen had even been able to record this, his sixtieth studio album. Recorded four and five years ago, he has just turned 81, and is in the nasty stages of Alzheimer’s. He has eight children, the eighth of whom is Ashley Campbell, who is out on the road this summer playing her songs and those of her dad. Ghost on the Canvas, his last ‘last album’, helped Glen win a GRAMMY, and I wonder if Glen will be around next year to accept a GRAMMY for this. The hope might be forlorn.

The son of a sharecropper from Arkansas, one of twelve kids (like Dolly Parton), Glen learned guitar and earned a living in Los Angeles out on the road or as a session man. He famously became part of the Wrecking Crew, who played uncredited behind the Beach Boys, as well as on Strangers in the Night, Daydream Believer, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling and Viva Las Vegas. The BBC documentary from 2013, recently replayed on the iPlayer, shows him play some rock guitar like Jimi Hendrix, then smiling with a haircut on primetime TV.

As a performer, Glen deputised for Brian Wilson on tour with the Beach Boys, playing the bass part! Glen had released an album in 1961 which caught the ear of Jim Webb, who at fourteen was still half a decade away from putting songs into Glen’s mouth. Those songs remain fine popular songs fifty years on. BBC Radio 2 are sure to play Wichita Lineman (‘all material is copyright’…some of you may add), which is one of the most requested discs for castaways on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4; the song shows both sides of Glen, guitarist and interpreter of song. It was Glen’s first hit song (a number 7 in 1969), which was followed by five others. For those new to Glen’s catalogue, sixteen of his finest hits are added onto Adios on a second disc, including the classic Webb-written tunes.

Galveston followed in 1969, while By the Time I Get to Phoenix was never a hit in the UK. Then came a cover of All I Have to Do is Dream (number 3, a duet with Bobbie Gentry, 1969) and one about a cowboy ‘walking these streets alone’, which hit number 1 in the US and number 4 in the UK in 1975. His role in the movie True Grit and his TV show hosting job put him onto the small and big screens.

Southern Nights, his chocka-chocka version of the Allen Toussaint tune, was a minor hit in the UK but a number 1 in the States. But in Richard Carlin’s Big Book of Country Music, published in 1995, Glen’s entry reads: ‘Campbell has failed to capture his early success.’ With success like Glen’s, which included TV show ubiquity and fatherhood, success was in the past…but Big Machine have helped get his album to number 3 in the UK charts.

The album begins with the Fred Neil song Everybody’s Talkin’, with Ashley playing the banjo part and Glen delivering a note-perfect version of the track Nilsson took to the top of the charts back when Glen had his TV show.

There are four Jim Webb tunes: Just Like Always, It Won’t Bring Her Back, Postcard From Paris (‘Wish you were here’) and the title track. Each has typically Webbish melodies, especially the second of those which moves through the chords and has a satisfying but sad chorus. None of these has a cake left out in the rain, though…

Aside from Webb, other top writers are represented on Glen’s final record. Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright has the sort of railroad-type beat that Bob Dylan used in his original, back when Glen was still known for his guitar playing. She Thinks I Still Care sounds like the standard it always has been, full of slide guitar and majestic harmonies, while Funny How Time Slips Away is sung with the song’s writer, Ole Willie (who is actually three years older than Glen!). The two men with a combined age of over 150 let their voices tell the tale over honkytonk piano and a soft shuffle. It may be the definitive version.

A Thing Called Love, which has been tackled by the King and the Man in Black, is given the Rhinestone treatment, and the song works with a nylon-string guitar and finger-clicking as accompaniment. The melody glides, and Glen does a great job of it.

Am I All Alone (Or Is It Only Me) features Vince Gill, the man who would surely present a Glen Campbell-type show if terrestrial TV would allow country on primetime (it used to, after all, before Nashville moved to cable). Glen’s vocal on the first verse of this version is tucked in the mix behind Vince’s plucking, as if he’s speaking from a well twenty feet deep.

Arkansas Farmboy was written about Glen by Carl Jackson, who produced the songs on Adios. ‘She never could find any time or a dollar that she could just spend on herself’ is in the first verse of a song in triple time, a sort of waltz which recalls a life Glen led in the 1940s and 1950s ‘on the farm back in Dixie’ before he became Glen Campbell: Superstar. That’s why all country music stars should always stay humble: the farm raised them, and when they die they’ll go back to the earth from whence they came. Glen is closer, alas, to that soil than most.

The final track on Glen’s final album, which will win awards for more than sentimental reasons, will surely (in spite of him being breathing and in a home, visited by his family) be his final recording. It’s a love song, possibly written by Jim Webb for Glen’s wife of 35 years and the mother of Ashley. The chorus is full of yearning and nostalgia, and Glen’s voice sounds like an old man’s reflecting back on a life lived well or to the fullest. We will, of course, never see his like again. Listen to these tracks to find out what we’ll be missing.

Jonny Brick

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