Street Sounds: Tribute to a fading memory
Country-rock pioneer Glen Campbell isn’t dead or dying, but he’s released his last record, the portentously titled Ghost On the Canvas.
Campbell was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s while recording this album, and the music reflects the musician’s decades-long career as a studio player to the stars and genre-crossing hit maker in the ‘70s.
For a person afflicted with a memory deficient condition, Campbell lays on the material in big numbers. The album tracks 16 songs, with two bonus tracks. These figures are deceiving because listening, time passes quickly due to the free-form ordering of songs. Many of these are short dreamy instrumentals that conjure images of the The Beach Boys (Campbell worked with them on Pet Sounds) and Sergeant Pepper-era Beatles.
May 21st, 1969 is a hallucinatory absinthe-soaked daydream that ends all too quickly. These vignettes are lush musings from a studio vet who learned about impact while tracking Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” sessions.
The heart of the album lies in the vaguely autobiographical songs that are tinged with a chill due to Campbell’s condition. They have an end of the line feeling that’s part resignation and final statement. Not an epitaph, it’s a lingering display of a top-choice guitarist/singer whose sound is heard from The Monkees and Simon and Garfunkel to Frank Sinatra.
As Campbell has played for others, so shall they play for him.
The list of collaborators and contributors here is exhaustive, from Paul Westerberg, Keith Urban, Dick Dale, Billy Corgan, Jakob Dylan, Rick Neilsen... it goes on. But Campbell doesn’t lose site of his own sound and legacy. His work with songwriter Jimmy Webb on Wichita Lineman is echoed in songs like the southern Gothic title track on to the understated anthem It’s Your Amazing Grace –– a song any rocker could play cranked whilst driving down a dark highway, alone.
Campbell’s sound is lush, at times slick, but at its heart is always soulful with a twang as big as a western sunset. If he’s going to sign off, he did so with beauty on the guitar opus There’s No Me…Without You –– his true voice.
–– Dean Gordon-Smith is The Morning Star's music reviewer. His column, Street Sounds, appears every Friday in Arts.