Glen Campbell has been in the media spotlight a lot recently. It’s quite the story: an ageing singer in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease releases one of the best albums of his long career and embarks on a “farewell” concert tour of the US at the age of 75. It all sounds like a script that could have sprung from a vintage movie.
Despite his age and health issues, Campbell’s newest album, Ghost on the Canvas, shows the singer in excellent form and is a worthy companion to his previous offering, the magnificent Meet Glen Campbell. Like that album, Ghost on the Canvas features material from songwriters one would not normally associate with Campbell. This time around he tackles tunes written by Paul Westerberg, Robert Pollard (Guided By Voices), and Jakob Dylan. Campbell also co-wrote several powerful new songs with the album’s producer Julian Raymond. Campbell will forever be associated with his early hits, most of them written by the talented Jimmy Webb, but the songs on the latest two albums show a depth and maturity that far surpasses anything the singer has ever recorded.
There is a contemplative, almost meditative element to Ghost on the Canvas. Not surprisingly, Campbell’s voice shows signs of age on the new songs, but the emotional power in his singing is still very much intact and more than compensates for any decline in range. This man still knows how to deliver the goods, and he’s chosen material that suits his style quite well. Realizing that he is nearing the end of his storied career, Campbell is resigned to his condition, but going out on his terms. But the tunes are not mournful dirges or tinged with regret. Instead, these are beautiful and moving odes to life and the human condition. Ghost on the Canvas is a grand and inspired album, ranking as one of the highlights of Glen Campbell’s career.
I’ve been an unabashed Glen Campbell fan for as long as I can remember. Back in the late 60s Glen Campbell was one of the most popular singers on the planet, thanks to both his streak of hit records, roles in films such as True Grit, and a prime-time TV show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. My parents had an 8-track tape of Campbell’s Gentle on My Mind album and we used to play that tape in their Winnebago on trips around the country in the late 60s and early 70s. The title track, of course, was a huge hit, but the rest of the album was chockablock with goodies too, covers of songs like “Bowling Green,” “Catch the Wind,” “Without Her,” and “Mary in the Morning.”
After “Gentle on My Mind,” Campbell’s hit streak continued with gems like “Wichita Cowboy,” “Galveston,” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” After a few dry years he made a comeback in the mid 70s with “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights,” but by the time the 80s rolled around and the 90s passed, his recording output diminished to the point that Glen Campbell had pretty much become a forgotten figure in the music industry. And then, after that long period of inactivity he returned in 2008 for a remarkable late-career creative burst with Meet Glen Campbell and now Ghost on the Canvas.
I can’t remember the exact year — somewhere in the hazy late 60s — but one of the great disappointments of my young life was not being allowed to go a concert that Glen Campbell was giving at the Orlando Sports Stadium. My father wouldn’t take me to the show (no doubt fearing that there would be “drug addicted hippies” in the audience) and I was heartbroken. That would have been my very first concert and a pretty impressive one with which to launch my concert-going career. Instead, I had to wait a few more years before I finally got to go to a concert; KC and the Sunshine Band performing at Walt Disney World. Obviously, that’s not nearly as cool of an experience to brag about.