August 20, 2008
It’s interesting how Glen Campbell covering contemporary rock songs also brings him back to his musical roots. When Johnny Cash took a similar route on his collaborations with Rick Rubin, it brought him back to the raw sound of his early days on Sun and Columbia. Here, Glen Campbell returns to the bright, shiny country-pop that wallpapered AM radio stations in the sixties and seventies, using compelling songs from a younger generation as his vehicle.
Surprisingly, it works. Campbell doesn’t transform the songs drastically from their original incarnations. Rather, he brings the pop flavors that lingered below the surface to the forefront, sweetening things up with layers of strings and his smooth vocals. His covers of the Travis hit “Sing” and Tom Petty’s “Walls” sound effortless, with Campbell’s voice and taste in production being a perfect match for the material.
The album is most effective when Campbell covers songs that take on added dimension when sung by an older man. Jackson Browne’s lament “These Days” is the highlight of the set, with the added gravitas of Campbell’s weathered voice bringing out deeper shades of regret and loneliness. On Velvet Underground’s “Jesus,” Campbell sounds like a man asking for a path to salvation before it’s too late, rather than as a young man simply seeking direction in life.
A similar approach would have been more effective for Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” as Campbell’s strangely bouncy take lacks the subtle shades of bitterness and lingering affection underlying Billie Joe Armstrong’s masterful performance. Campbell misses the mark in the other direction on “Sadly Beautiful,” which would have benefited from a more spirited production to draw out the emotional contrasts and contradictions present in the lyric.
Even on the album closer, where Campbell tackles the John Lennon chestnut “Grow Old With Me,” he overdoes it, leaning too heavily on the strings and sounding somewhat disconnected from the lyric. But overall, Meet Glen Campbell is a reminder of what a stylist he is, and how effective he can be when wrapping his voice around a good pop melody. If listeners do truly meet Glen Campbell for the first time here, they’ll get a good introduction to the man’s talents, though they’ll have to go back a good distance to discover his best work.