CD Review of Meet Glen Campbell by Glen Campbell
Recommended if you like
Josh Rouse, Ron Sexsmith, Tom Petty
Label
Capitol
Glen Campbell:
Meet Glen Campbell

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

A
t first glance, any album that finds country crooner Glen Campbell teamed with some of rock’s most forward-looking musicians (including Jason Faulkner, Cheap Trick's Robin Zander, Jane’s Addiction’s Chris Chaney and Jellyfish’s Roger Joseph Manning, Jr.) and offering up a set of cool covers (by Foo Fighters, U2, the Replacements, the Velvet Underground, Tom Petty and Green Day) seems a concept that’s both weird and wacky. For one thing, this is a guy whose waning popularity lies with the geriatric leisure suit set. For another, he hasn’t had a hit in over thirty years. Even the most ardent fans that worshipped him in the ‘60s and ‘70s would have reason to think he’s either retired or confined to playing state fairs.

Yet despite those doubts, Meet Glen Campbell is a surprisingly good album, one that lives up to its title in providing a new intro to this 70-something performer in the latter stage of his career. It ought not be forgotten that early on, Campbell’s credentials qualified him for rock relevance. He filled in for Brian Wilson in the Beach Boys after Wilson ceased touring, and being an accomplished guitarist, he served as a session player on several of their most influential albums. Early hits like “Gentle on My Mind,” “Wichita Lineman,” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” reflected a warm, acoustic ambiance and a heartfelt narrative approach that predated Americana in terms style and sensibility. That mellow glow resurfaces here, as does his rapprochement with Capitol Records, the label that was home to his hits at the height of his popularity.  

Still, checking out the song credits and then imagining Campbell tackling, say, Velvet Underground’s “Jesus” leads to some justifiable uncertainty. Fortunately though, Campbell handles his assignments with admirable aplomb, uncovering the pure pop core lying within each of these songs, and doing so without diminishing any emotional essence. Consequently, Campbell completely transforms the aforementioned “Jesus,” taking the song to its gospel extreme and repurposing it as an anthem of dedication and devotion. It follow too that in Campbell’s hands, Travis’ “Sing” becomes a song of celebration, while Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These” soars with affirmation and determination. 

Glen Campbell

In fact, many of these songs seem tailor-made for Campbell’s soothing if sanitized approach. The two Petty entries, “Walls” and “Angel Dream,” seem surprisingly well suited to his sympathetic interpretations. John Lennon’s “Grow Old With Me,” sadly ironic considering its author’s untimely passing, finds new echoes of sadness in Campbell’s weary, plaintive delivery. Likewise, “These Days,” one of Jackson Browne’s most reflective and introspective ballads, turns especially poignant when this veteran troubadour borrows its lyrics to muse on current circumstance. That said, the album’s most unexpected revelation comes via “Sadly Beautiful,” a Replacements cover that substitutes the upstart attitude of the original for Campbell’s straight sentiment, justifying this track’s distinction as the album’s most unlikely inclusion.

The fact that singer and songs mesh so seamlessly attests to Campbell’s prowess – as both an artist and an individual who refuses to be counted out. Campbell deserves kudos and his fans deserve more of the same. Let’s hope they’re not long in coming.

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