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Feature Review: Glen Campbell, Ghost on the Canvas

Glen Campbell
Ghost on the Canvas
[Surfdog Records (2011)]

Glen Campbell is finally hanging up his dusty cowboy hat and riding into the fading Malibu sunset on a horse called Fame. He claims that this will be his last record, since he has been battling Alzheimer’s disease the last 8 months, and it may very well be his swan song to the music industry and to the paparazzi. Even so, he is staging a massive worldwide tour—The Glen Campbell Goodbye Tour—to promote his new album and to play the mega-hits, and he’ll be giving his fans a grand farewell that they won’t soon forget.

Campbell, who enjoyed early success and stardom in the 1960s and 1970s as a studio musician (The Wrecking Crew), popular singer (“Gentle on My Mind,” “Wichita Lineman,” ” Galveston,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”), movie star (True Grit), and television personality (The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour), has decided to go out with a big bang by focusing on songs mainly written by contemporary singer-songwriters like Paul Westerberg (“Ghost on the Canvas” and “Any Trouble”), Jakob Dylan (“Nothing But the Whole Wide World”), Robert Pollard (“Hold on Hope”), and Teddy Thompson (“In My Arms”). In addition, Campbell is backed up by an assortment of ace musicians and performers like Brian Setzer, Billy Corgan, Dick Dale, Chris Isaak, Rick Nielsen, and the Dandy Warhols. Produced by Julian Raymond, who also is listed as co-writer with Campbell on 5 songs (“A Better Place,” “There’s No Me.Without You,” “It’s Your Amazing Grace,” “Strong,” “A Thousand Lifetimes”), Campbell’s track record as a recording star is nothing short of amazing with six Top 20 albums and 21 Top 40 hit singles on the pop charts. On the country music charts, he had nine albums at the #1 spot and 27 Top 10 singles. Not too shabby a career, eh? And if you gotta go, why not go out hanging five on a surfboard at the top of the wave, even if you’re wearing a 10-gallon hat.

This album shouldn’t disappoint Glen Campbell fans by any stretch, and may be one of his finest efforts. His voice, still strong and country-twanged, is in wonderful form, and he still sounds like the boy-next-door doing his best to sell your mother a subscription to Reader’s Digest. Which is not a bad thing at all.

There’s a little bit of everything here in the mix. Some clever folk tearjerkin’ nostalgia on “A Better Place,” a dash of 1980s pop edginess with “Ghost on the Canvas,” and a rocking surfy steamrolling hoedown on “In My Arms.” In between songs are some quiet instrumental interludes which bring to mind shadows of The Beach Boys (Glen once joined the BBs as a replacement for Brian Wilson on tour), his days as a lineman for the county of Wichita, carnival noises ala Sgt Pepper, and some heavenly backwoods steel guitar slides which conjure up longing, redemption, and the power of grace. A concept album with a powerful message of mortality? Twitching memories sifted with equal doses of sadness and happiness and irony? Perhaps. But it’s to Campbell’s credit (along with his producer Julian Raymond) that the songs sound fresh, alive, unforgettable, and ready to be downloaded at the drop of a credit card. Nothing too sappy. Nothing too shallow. Nothing too bleak. Just a great photo album of the passing years with some cute (and meaningful) captions underneath each tattered and pale snapshot.

—TJ McGrath (Woodbridge, CT)

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One comment on “Feature Review: Glen Campbell, Ghost on the Canvas

  1. The thing that I recall launching him into the big time was recording Larry Weiss’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” from the rather shocking-for-its-time movie “Midnight Cowboy” The song has very little relationship to the theme of the movie exactly but I suspect it fit Campbell to a T at that time in his career..

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