Reviewed by Tony Cummings
When long-in-the-tooth reviewers are faced with albums by long-in-the-tooth hitmakers there is a real danger that the latest project up for review will be strongly tainted, if not completely eschewed, by subjective perspectives of the artist's decades' long musical history. For me Glen Campbell was never an artist I'd much enjoyed or admired. Admittedly, in 1968 he'd recorded a stone classic, the hauntingly poignant "Wichita Lineman", but since then there'd been countless albums of middle of the road dross. And it wasn't just Glen's musical mishits which left me cold. Down the years Glen had released occasional gospel albums but these had been interspersed with news reports of booze related brushes with the law and I'd long assumed Glen was one of those adherents of cultural religion - singers prepared to record occasional albums of the old time hymns but not prepared to live anything that resembled a Christian lifestyle - of which country music abounds. My assessment of Glen was finally challenged when I read some reviews of this album, released in 2012. All the critics made much of the fact that 'Ghost On The Canvas' was almost certainly to be his last as the singer/songwriter, 75 when he recorded this, was suffering from Alzheimer's. The reviews were mixed. Rolling Stone for instance was lukewarm about the album for the rather silly reason that Glen hadn't adopted the same approach Johnny Cash had taken on his superb American Recordings albums and stripped the accompaniments right back. But other reviews were highly favourable, one suggesting the title track "has the same spacious yearning quality of 'Wichita Lineman' and sounds like Campbell's last classic." So I decided to put this on Cross Rhythms' To Buy list (I'd explain here that Cross Rhythms only infrequently gets serviced with review copies of albums from non-Christian companies). So it's finally come to pass that we're reviewing 'Ghost On The Canvas'. It is undoubtedly a magnificent album. The air of poignancy that understandably permeates the album never descends into sentimentality and with a batch of Campbell's own songs and some carefully chosen gems from Teddy Thompson, Jakob Dylan and the Replacements' Paul Westerberg, and a finely judged production from Julian Raymond, former vice president of Capitol Records and the home of Campbell's best '60s records, the atmosphere of thoughtful reflection is perfectly sustained. There's much to reflect on - the drink and drugs, four wives and eight children, fame and fortune. But there's also the incredible grace of a forgiving God. In "It's Your Amazing Grace" Glen sings in his rich, clear voice, "You're all that's in my heart/You're all that's in my head/You know I believe this." Elsewhere there are other songs of faith like the simple, acoustic guitar driven opener "A Better Place" which begins with the confession, "I've tried and I have failed, Lord/I've won and I have lost/I've lived and I have loved, Lord/Sometimes at such a cost." Then there's Westerberg's poetic reflection on life, "Like a ghost on a canvas/People don't see me/Ghost on a canvas/No, they never see soul." "There's No Me Without You" is clearly aimed at Glen's godly wife Kim who saw him through his alcohol and cocaine addictions. That moving, elegant final song ends with an extended coda with elegiac guitar solos from Billy Corgan (The Smashing Pumpkins), Brian Seltzer (Stray Cats) and Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick). It's an arresting end to an album which is sad but never maudlin, uplifting but never clichéd and a reminder of life's frailty and God's mercy.
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