Glen Campbell: Meet Glen Campbell

glencampbell_meetBrilliant update of country-pop legend

In contrast to Johnny Cash’s stark reinvention at the hands of Rick Rubin on the American Recordings series, the cheekily titled Meet Glen Campbell sets out to simply reintroduce a legendary artist to contemporary audiences. Co-producers Julian Raymond and Howard Willing are quite obviously steeped in Campbell’s classic hits and sound, and rather than reframing him in something stark or contrasting, they find relevancy in contemporary material and beautifully constructed arrangements that blend guitars, bass, drums, banjo, mandolin and strings. The layered instruments push the songs forward with soaring strings, shuffling country-pop rhythms, and background washes that give this release an updated sound without trying to completely recast its star. Campbell’s voice is mixed further forward than on many of his classic hits, and he sounds remarkably at home atop non-Nashville production that perfectly blends acoustic and electric instruments. This is pop music in the vein of Campbell’s iconic recordings of Jimmy Webb’s songs, mixing craft and roots for the broadly accepting top-40 of four decades past.

The album’s ten tracks are carefully selected from the catalogs of well-known modern pop artists, and adapted with flourishes of Campbell’s earlier work. The rolling rhythm of “Gentle on My Mind,” for example, is added to a cover of Tom Petty’s redemptive “Angel Dream,” and the dramatic strings introducing the Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These” play upon the original opening of “Wichita Lineman.” Among the album’s highlights is a cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days,” on which Campbell seems to reflect wearily on the chaos of his earlier years, and finds a modicum of satisfaction in simply having lived through it all. The arrangement of strings and acoustic guitars takes a cue from Nico’s 1967 version, but Campbell’s lengthy career and public life resonate deeply with the lyrics. The Replacements’ “Sadly Beautiful” is arranged with strings in place of the original volume-controlled guitar counterpoint, and ‘70s soft-rock fans will recognize the underlying guitar vibrato from Bread’s “If.” Campbell’s shell-shocked reading of Paul Westerberg’s sorrowful lyrics is supported by layers of acoustic guitar, strings, keyboards and backing vocals. Even the Velvet Underground’s “Jesus” is made to reflect Campbell’s tumultuous history, recast from a libertine’s consideration to an elder statesman’s plea.

If there’s a weakness to the album, it’s the lack of new material. The all-covers format leaves listeners to compare Campbell’s versions to the originals, rather than providing an opportunity to introduce definitive interpretations. Thankfully, many of the selections are pulled from albums rather than hit singles, and avoid the novelty of a mature artist trying to look hip. Even when Campbell does remake an icon, such as Tom Petty’s “Walls” or Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” the songs are given new life from Campbell’s classic sound. “Walls” opens with the sort of orchestral attack that cued the vocal of “Galveston” and “Good Riddance” is turned into a shuffle that’s equal parts country and modern pop. Campbell’s return finds his skills as a vocal interpreter undimmed, and his producers amplify his native talent with cannily picked songs and deftly arranged productions. [©2008 hyperbolium dot com]

Hear “Sadly Beautiful”

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