My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Jimmy Webb

Album Review: Ashley Monroe – ‘Sparrow’

It’s often particularly disheartening when an artist one has seen as a bright spot in a generally dismal music scene changes his or her style significantly. In the case of Ashley Monroe’s latest album, we can’t ascribe it to selling out as I can’t really see this new style getting her any more radio interest than her more traditional country music. Dave Cobb’s production is not only not remotely traditional, I find it hard to detect anything recognisably country at all on most of the record. She admits herself that she doesn’t know what genre this album might fall into. To my ears it draws on later 1960s pop with heavy use of strings and an almost psychedelic sound, shading into 70s Glen Campbell-Jimmy Webb arrangements. That’s not to say that it’s a bad record per se, just not what I was personally hoping for.

Lead single ‘Hands On You’ (a co-write with Jon Randall), a sexy, sultry song of regret for an encounter that never happened, has a hypnotic quality which grew on me somewhat over repeat listens. Randall also co-wrote ‘I’m Trying To’ with Ashley and Kassi Ashton, a pensive low key ballad about pretending a breakup isn’t hurting. This is one of the tracks I do like quite a bit, and the production is at least fairly restrained.

The two best songs come at the end of the set. Ashley wrote ‘Daddy I Told You’ with her Pistol Annies bandmate Angaleena Presley and Josh O’Keefe. It is a poignant message to Ashley’s late father, who died when she was only 13, set to a gentle melody. ‘Keys To The Kingdom’, a co-write with Waylon Payne, has a similar reflective vibe with a dreamlike poetic lyric.

The pretty sounding but lyrically incisive ‘Mother’s Daughter’, written with Brendan Benson and Ryan Beaver, which paints a portrait of a woman who cannot sustain a relationship.

The backings tend to overwhelm otherwise strong songs like the mid-paced ‘Hard On A Heart’ which is just too busy. ‘Wild Love’ is plain dreary underneath its dramatic sweeping strings, as is ‘Paying Attention’. ‘She Wakes Me Up (Rescue Me)’, addressed to Ashley’s daughter, is also rather dull and not at all country sounding.

‘This Heaven’ (written with Miranda Lambert’s ex Anderson East and Aaron Raitiere) has a subdued churchy arrangement which is quite nice.

‘Orphan’, written with Moak and Gordie Sampson, the song which provides the album title, has a mournful underpinning and another poetic, questioning lyric. Ashley’s voice soars beautifully over the solemn cello-dominated arrangement. ‘Rita’, written with Nicole Galyon and Paul Moak, has a similar vibe.

Ashley’s songwriting is stronger than ever, and I like her sweetly vulnerable vocals here too. But the arrangements are really not to my taste, and I doubt I will revisit this album much. Gie it a try to see if it works for you.

Grade: B

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Ghost On The Canvas’

Glen_Campbell_-_Ghost_on_the_CanvasGlen Campbell was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009. He was in the process of recording his sixty-first, and now final, studio album at the time. The California based Serfdog Records released Ghost On The Canvas in late summer 2011. The record was produced by Julian Raymond and Howard Willing and was accompanied by a farewell tour the next year. Ghost On The Canvas was intended as a companion piece to his previous album Meet Glen Campbell.

Campbell and Raymond co-wrote seven of the album’s eighteen tracks. The eerie ballad “A Better Place” is an autobiographical conversation with the lord regarding his failing body. “A Thousand Lifetimes” is a mid-tempo rocker about the many iterations of life.

The pair’s remaining co-writes focus on different emotions regarding Campbell’s wife, Kim. “It’s Your Amazing Grace” is a love song while “Strong” is a declaration of his undying vow to always be there for her. “There’s No Me…With You” concerns the afterlife and his desire not to be alone. Campbell understands the pain he’s causing on “What I Wouldn’t Give,” a deeply reflective heartbreaker about not wanting to see his wife in so much emotional pain.

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr was the album’s other main writer, contributing six solely written haunting instrumentals. “The Billstown Crossroads,” “Second Street North,” “May 21, 1969,” and “Wild and Waste” are all similar in length and sonic structure. “Valley of the Son” is somewhat creepy, with the sounds of children playing in the background. “The Rest is Silence” isn’t any variation on the others, but does have some ‘ooohs’ tucked into the music bed.

Paul Westerberg, lead vocalist for The Replacements, contributed two tracks of his own. The esoteric title track, an ethereal ballad, was the only promotional single from the album. “Any Trouble” is a mid-tempo rocker about a husband’s consideration towards his wife in his final months.

Two famous rock star sons supplied tracks reminiscent of the material Campbell recorded in his 1960s heyday. Richard Thompson’s son Teddy wrote “In My Arms” while Bob Dylan’s son Jakob composed “Nothing But the Whole Wide World.” Both tracks are very, very good.

Robert Pollard wrote “Hold on Hope” and it’s the most lyrically sweeping of the album’s tracks. The lyric keeps the focus on Campbell’s struggles but broadens to say we all ‘hold on to hope’ at one point or another in our lives.

It wouldn’t be a farewell album from Glen Campbell without at least one song written by Jimmy Webb. “Wish You Were Here” is a messy ballad about a man writing letters home to his family while visiting Rome, Paris and London. The lyric is strong, and was originally titled “Postcard From Paris” but was changed for this album.

Ghost On The Canvas is a strange hodgepodge of an album that contains a little bit of everything. I quite enjoyed the actual songs and found Campbell to still be in very strong voice. I could’ve done without the instrumentals.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Old Home Town’

51sgfnyksXL._SS280When crossover artists begin to wane in popularity, they usually rely on their country fanbase to keep them afloat commercially. Glen Campbell’s 1982 disc Old Home Town seems to have been designed with that reality in mind; while it is by no means a “rootsy” album, it features more fiddle, banjo and harmonica than his earlier efforts, as well as prominent synthesizers and string section, as was typical of the mainstream country music of the early 80s.

Produced by Jerry Fuller, Old Home Town was the first of a trio of albums Campbell made for Atlantic Records, after his twenty-year relationship with Capitol ended. Five years earlier, he had scored his final #1 hit with “Southern Nights”. The follow-up single “Sunflower” had peaked at #4, but after that the Top 10 hits were much fewer and farther between. His Al DeLory-produced albums were mostly middle-of-the-road affairs meant for mainstream pop fans, but also enjoyed success on the country charts. Old Home Town was more tailor made for the country market, but it was clear that Glen hadn’t altogether abandoned his pop aspirations. The album’s most successful single was a remake of an old pop hit for from the 1960s. “I Love How You Love Me” was first a hit for the girl group The Paris Sisters in 1961 and again for Bobby Vinton 1n 1968. It seems like an odd choice for a single, even in an era of heavily watered-down country. It’s not a particularly exciting song and didn’t need to be remade again and should have been relegated to album filler. However, it did reach #17 on the country chart. It also marked Glen’s final appearance on the adult contemporary chart, where it peaked at #35.

“I Love How You Love Me” was sandwiched in between the bluesy title track, which peaked outside the country Top 40 at #44 and the Gospel-laced “On the Wings of My Victory”, which died at #85 (which would be a non-charting single today). It’s a very good song, but again an odd choice for a single. I would have picked the more uptempo “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me” or the funky “Hang On Baby (Ease My Mind)”, which would have been right in line with the country radio tastes of the day. Even the Jimmy Webb-penned “I Was Too Busy Loving You” would have been a better choice. It’s a little syrupy and sounds like the kind of song Doug Stone would have great success with about a decade later, but it is saved by Glen’s powerful vocal performance. Nothing can save the very dated-sounding “A Few Good Men”, however.

Producer Jerry Fuller wrote the ballad “A Woman’s Touch”, which is better than the version Tom Jones scored a Top 10 country hit with that same year. The album concludes with a very nice version of “Mull of Kintyre”, a Scottish-flavored waltz, complete with Glen plain the bagpipes. It was written by Paul McCartney and Denny Laine, and had been a hit for McCartney’s band Wings in 1977.

Overall, Old Home Town is a mixed bag; while not Glen’s very best work, it contains enough decent material to have had a shot at success. I believe it suffered from poor singles choices, and perhaps the fact that Atlantic wasn’t country label in those days and probably lacked the clout to score any big hits with country radio. While it is largely forgotten today, it is worth revisiting.

Grade: B

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Reunion: The Songs Of Jimmy Webb’

reunionThe songwriter most closely associated with Glen Campbell’s career, and the writer of some of his best known songs, is Jimmy Webb. In 1974 Glen paid tribute to his friend with this album, with Webb acting as arranger and providing the sweeping strings so familiar from the crossover hits. None of the songs is as accessible as those famous ones, but there is much to appreciate here if you listen closely.

The sole single, ‘It’s A Sin When You Love Somebody’, reached a peak of only #16 country and #39 AC, but is perhaps the most commercial song on the album. The gospel undertones in the arrangement are appropriate for a song about the intensity of passionate love and divine condemnation/forgiveness.

My favourite track is the beautiful ‘You Might As Well Smile’, which has a gorgeous melody and a comforting message about the aftermath of a relationship. Also very good is the wistful ‘Wishing Now’, about separation from a loved one.

‘Just This One Time’ is a passionately delivered appeal to a lover to trust him:

And I know I’ve given you every reason
In this whole round world to fear me now
But my love’s a raging river
And you trapped it in your hands, sweet darlin’

I also very much like ‘I Keep It Hid’, on the theme of feelings enduring past the official breakup.

I was a little bored by the reproachful ‘Ocean In His Eyes’, another song about a failed relationship. Webb took the title of ‘The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress’ from a similarly titled science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein; the song is a dreamy and presumably metaphorical reflection on failure and loss, which Glen sings beautifully. ‘Adoration’ hides a bitchy putdown under a pretty surface.

Surprisingly, the album did not consist exclusively of Jimmy Webb tunes. Jimmy’s sister Susan Webb wrote ‘About The Ocean’, a pleasant sounding ballad with a melancholy feel and slightly elusive lyric which appears to be about a breakup. ‘Roll Me Easy’, written by Southern Rocker Lowell George (and known elsewhere by the variant title ‘Roll ‘Um Easy’), has a nice breezy feel and although not an obvious choice for Glen, Webb’s arrangement ensures it fits in quite nicely.

I wouldn’t categorise this as a country album in any way, but it is impeccably conceived and performed, and is a favourite for many of Glen Campbell’s fans. As a bonus the 2001 re-mastered reissue includes ‘Wichita Lineman’ and ‘By The Time I Get to Phoenix’.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Goodtime Album’

61vgBK4KblL._SS280Glen Campbell’s fourth album release of 1970 was titled to capitalize on the popularity of his CBS variety show, and as such it makes sense that he and his label were aiming for a broader share of the market than country music typically reached in those days. The title is somewhat of a misnomer, however, since “goodtime” implies that there will be a substantial number of uptempo and party songs. That is decidedly not the case, however; Goodtime Album is heavy on ballads and mid-tempos and was clearly designed for the middle of the road/adult contemporary listener.

By this stage of his career, Campbell had enjoyed substantial success singing tastefully orchestrated ballads — many of them written by Jimmy Webb — but this time around the material was not quite as strong as it had been on previous efforts. The album gets off to a good start with its first and only single — and excellent cover of Conway Twitty’s 1958 pop smash “It’s Only Make Believe”. Campbell’s version is faithful to the original and was a huge international success; it reached #3 country, #10 pop and #2 easy listening in the US, as well as reaching the Top 5 in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Despite its success, Glen’s version is not widely remembered today, due to the song’s strong association with Twitty. It is one of four country-ish songs on the album — another being “Pave Your Way Until Tomorrow”, which features some banjo playing and is more upbeat than the most of the collection. “Turn It Around In Your Mind” was written by Jerry Reed and has some country elements, but it is a bit overwhelmed by horns and strings, as is “Funny Kind of Monday”.

The rest of the album is comprised of covers of songs that had been pop hits for other artists. Campbell was blessed with the type of voice that can sing almost anything. I’ve never been much of a Sinatra fan but I liked many of his songs. Call me a heretic but I find Glen’s version of “My Way” to be greatly superior to the original. The Simon & Garfunkel tune “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park” were both widely recorded by artists of the day. I thoroughly enjoyed Glen’s take on the former, but the latter is a rare case where Al DeLory’s production is a bit heavy-handed, reaching almost bombastic levels, with the strings nearly drowning out Glen’s voice at time. The strings are also a bit overwhelming on “Dream Sweet Dreams About Me”.

The only track I actively disliked was “Just Another Piece of Paper”, another Jimmy Webb number and a rare example of a song that doesn’t really suit Glen’s voice. The dated 70s arrangement, spoken word intro and cluttered production just don’t do it for me. The other songs all range from OK to good but the album overall isn’t as interesting as Gentle On My Mind or By The Time I Get To Phoenix.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Galveston’

galvestonReleased in March 1969, Galveston was the thirteenth album Capitol released on Glen Campbell, an astounding number of albums considering that Glen had been in the public consciousness for only two years.

Released hot on the heels of the song of the same name, and following the very successful Wichita Lineman album and single, Galveston soared up the charts, spending eleven weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart and reaching #2 on Billboard’s Hot 200 (all genres) chart, the album reached platinum, sales status, the last Glen Campbell album to do so on original release, although he would continue to be a highly successful singles artist, with his biggest singles hits yet to come.

Caveat: my vinyl copy of this album was issued on the English Ember label and has fourteen tracks. In describing this album, I know I have the correct tracks as released on the US Capitol label, I’m just not sure that I have them in the correct sequence.

The album opens with “Galveston”, a Jimmy Webb composition that soared to the top of the Country and Easy Listening charts and reached #4 on the pop charts. Released during the Vietnam War years, apparently Webb conceived of the song as an anti-war song but Campbell’s reading of the song need not be interpreted in that way. I was living in London when this song was released and was surprised that it failed to do better than #14 in the UK (“Wichita Lineman” reached #7 in the UK). Perhaps the interpretation of the song as an anti-war song detracted from its universal appear. I think it is a great song:

Galveston, oh, Galveston
I still hear your seawaves crashin
While I watch the cannons flashin’
I clean my gun, and dream of Galveston

I still see her standing by the water
Standing there looking out to sea
And is she waiting there for me
On the beach where we used to run
Galveston, oh, Galveston
I am so afraid of dying
Before I dry the tears she’s crying
Before I watch your sea birds flying
In the sun, at Galveston, at Galveston

Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Native Canadian singer-songwriter who achieve prominence in the 1960s, wrote “Take My Hand For A While”, a gentle song of heartbreak that was covered by many artists, although none better than Glen Campbell (George Hamilton IV’s version was also outstanding)

Take my hand for a while
Explain it to me once again
Just for the sake of my broken heart

Look into my eyes and maybe I will understand
How love I counted on was never there
You see, I thought that you might love me

So you caught me it seems off balance with a heart
So full of love and pretty dreams that two should share
And so I know but please before you go

The nest two songs are “If This Is Love”, written by Glen with Bill Ezell which I regard as simply album filler. The following track is “Today”, a Randy Sparks composition that was performed by Randy’s group the New Christry Minstrels, and was in the repertoire of many folk groups of the era . If the song wasn’t so overly familiar, it would have made a good single.

Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine
I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine

A million tomorrows shall all pass away
Ere I forget all the joy that is mine today

I’ll be a dandy and I’ll be a rover
You’ll know who I am by the song that I sing
I’ll feast at your table, I’ll sleep in your clover
Who cares what the morrow shall bring?

Side One of the album closes with.”Gotta Have Tenderness”, a Mitchell Torok composition that makes a classy album track, but wasn’t what radio was looking for at the time.

The sun comes up in the morning
Over the neighboring hill
Breeze sings the song in the tree top
In tune with Mr. Whippoorwill

Got to have tenderness
Got to have tenderness
We’ve got to have love

Side Two opens with another Jimmy Webb composition, “Where’s The Playground, Susie”, a relatively unsuccessful song that reached #28 Country, #26 Pop and #10 Adult Contemporary . I must confess that I regard this as the weakest song on the album, a rare Jimmy Webb misfire.

The carousel has stopped us here
It twirled a time or two and then it dropped us here
And still you’re not content with something about me
But what merry-go-round can you ride without me
To take your hand ? How would you stand?

Where’s the playground, Susie,
If I decide to let you go and play around?
Where’s the playground, Susie,
If I don’t stay around? If I don’t stay around?

This is followed by .”Time”, written by Michel Merchant. Glen performs it competantly, but it’s just another song.

Another Buffy Saint-Marie song, “Until It’s Time for You to Go”, follows. I always liked Buffy’s compositions, although I am not wild about her as a singer, and this song is no exception. Essentially the song is about a man and woman who are in love with each other, but cannot stay together because they come from differing cultures.

You’re not a dream
You’re not an angel
You’re a woman
I’m not a king,
I’m a man,

Take my hand
We’ll make a space
In the lives that we planned
And here we’ll stay
Until it’s time for you to go

Yes, we’re diff’rent worlds apart
We’re not the same
We laughed and played
At the start like in a game

You could have stayed
Outside my heart
But in you came
And here you’ll stay
Until it’s time for you to go

Glen does a masterful job with Buffy’s compositions, but I would urge you to check out some of Buffy’s albums for yourself.

“Oh What a Woman” is a Jerry Reed romp that Glen handles well. Jerry Reed was one of the world’s greatest guitar players (Chet Atkins considered him to be the greatest) and Glen acquits himself well on this number, both vocally and on the guitar.

The US version of the album closes with .”Every Time I Itch I Wind Up Scratchin’ You”, a Glen Campbell co-write with Jeremy Slate. It’s an amusing song but hardly essential.

Between Al DeLory’s orchestrations and the efforts of some of the finest session musicians in Los Angeles, the sound of this album has a very polished feel to it, maybe too much so. The album features Glen Campbell on vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, Hal Blaine and Bob Felts on drums, Al Casey on acoustic guitar, Dennis McCarthy on piano and Joe Osborn on bass guitar.

As I noted above, this would be Glen’s final album to achieve platinum sales. Razor X had asked me how the Gentle On My Mind album had reached such staggering sales with NO hit singles. Below was part of my reply:

“You know the old saying, a rising tide lifts all boats ? I think that is what occurred here. Campbell made five or six appearances on the Smothers Brothers Show during the second and third seasons, hosted a summer replacement show for the Smothers Brothers and then was given his own show. He appeared as a guest on many shows including The Tonight Show (Johnny Carson) and if I recall correctly, the Ed Sullivan Show. He was ubiquitous and he was better than good. He was an ideal guest for any variety or talk show – a good conversationalist who sang really well and could absolutely dazzle with his instrumental prowess…

The next several singles [after “Gentle On My Mind”] were huge and the single was reissued and made another chart run. Moreover, Cash Box had the single reach #21 and Record World #26 … The song won four Grammy Awards, two of them for writer John Hartford, who appeared on the Smothers Brothers and Glen Campbell shows (plus others) and had the song in his active repertoire.

I think the increased prominence and success of follow up singles and albums caused people to go back and pick up his past albums. The single “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” reached #1 about the same time that the GENTLE ON MY MIND album hit #1 on the album charts. I know in my case, I went back and purchased his older albums after buying A NEW PLACE IN THE SUN, a nice album that reached #1 despite the fact that NO singles were released from the album. Billboard did not chart album tracks at the time but radio stations around the country apparently played tracks from the album.

During this period a country album could go #1 without being an enormous seller, but in Campbell’s case his albums stayed on the charts forever, selling steadily ([Gentle On My Mind spent] 88 weeks on the country album charts / 75 weeks on the pop album charts). Much the same thing happened with other Campbell albums – HEY LITTLE ONE’s singles “Hay Little One” and I Want to Live” are barely remembered today but that album hung onto the charts for about a year”

I think the market had become saturated with Glen Campbell albums by the time Galveston was released. Capitol had released a lot of albums, many of which became huge sellers, some of them on a delayed basis.

Anyway I would give this album a solid B+.

1.”Galveston” (Jimmy Webb) – 2:39
2.”Take My Hand for a While” (Buffy Sainte-Marie) – 2:41
3.”If This Is Love” (Glen Campbell, Bill Ezell) – 2:08
4.”Today” (Randy Sparks) – 2:29
5.”Gotta Have Tenderness” (Ramona Redd, Mitch Torok) – 2:09
6.”Friends” (Dick Bowman, Campbell) – 2:31
Side 21.”Where’s The Playground Susie” (Webb) – 2:55
2.”Time” (Michel Merchant) – 2:42
3.”Until It’s Time for You to Go” (Sainte-Marie) – 3:02
4.”Oh What a Woman” (Jerry Hubbard) – 2:39
5.”Every Time I Itch I Wind Up Scratchin’ You” (Campbell, Jeremy Slate) – 1:51

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Wichita Lineman’

220px-Glen_Campbell_Wichita_Lineman_album_coverWichita Lineman, Glen Campbell’s twelfth album, was his sixth working with producer Al De Loy. The project was immensely successful and spent multiple weeks atop both the Billboard Country Albums and all genre 200 charts.

Two singles were released from the record. “Dreams of The Everyday Housewife” came first, peaking at a respectable #3. Written by Chris Gantry, the track spells out a tale of sacrifice:

Oh, such are the dreams of the everyday housewife

You see everywhere any time of the day

An everyday housewife who gave up the good life for me

The classic title track, written by Jimmy Webb, was the other single. A multi-genre smash, “Wichita Lineman” topped the Country and Adult Contemporary Charts. On the U.S. Pop Chart, it peaked inside the top five. Webb was inspired to write the workingman’s anthem after spotting a lone lineman worker atop a telephone poll while on a drive through rural Oklahoma. He wrote from the perspective of that man:

I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road

Searchin’ in the sun for another overload

I hear you singin’ in the wire, I can hear you through the whine

And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

The remainder of the eleven-song album is peppered with tracks composed by some of the biggest artists of the day. The Bee Gees co-wrote the lush ballad, “Words,” a heartfelt plea from a man to the woman for which he wishes to spend his life.

Sonny Bono contributed “You Better Sit Down Kids,” which was a major hit for his then-wife Cher the year prior. The lyric brilliantly details a father’s sit down with his children as he tells them he and their mother are getting a divorce:

You better sit down kids I’ll tell you why, kids

You might not understand, kids

But give it a try, kids

Now how should I put this I’ve got something to say

Your mother is staying but I’m going away

No, we’re not mad, kids it’s hard to say why

Your mother and I don’t see eye to eye

 

Say your prayers before you go to bed

Make sure you get yourself to school on time

I know you’ll do the things your mother asks

She’s gonna need you most to stay in line

Keep in mind your mother’s gonna need your help

A whole lot more than she ever did before

No more fights over little things

Because I won’t be here to stop them anymore

The slow string-heavy ballad “If You Go Away” is considered a pop standard, which Campbell delivers in his signature smooth style. A paint-by-numbers cover of Otis Redding’s “(Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay” gives the album some pep, but lacks imagination. Campbell is much better on “Ann,” a lovely Billy Edd Wheeler love song bursting with energy. I much prefer the grittier 1993 Rod Stewart version of “Reason To Believe,” which gives the track a bit more life than Campbell does here.

Campbell wrote only one track on the album, the string-drenched ballad “Fate of Man.” It’s a rather excellent song in which Campbell traces a life’s trajectory through the ages and stages of a man’s life:

When a man is one and twenty, he thinks he knows it all

He can’t see down the road of life where he’ll ever fall

But fall he will as he travels through life

With all its pitfalls troubles and strife

 

Now at fifty, he’s going real strong

He has him a family and a nice little home

But old age is creeping up his spine

And the day is coming when the sun won’t shine

 

Now at sixty, he won’t have to guess

He’s already missed the boat that leads to success

But he’s done his best and he can’t see why

The fame of life just passed him by

 

Now at seventy, he can see the light

And he knows he’s never been very bright

But he’s done his best as he’s travelled by

And now all he can do is just sit and sigh

I’ll admit that when I review an album released more than forty-seven years ago, (Wichita Lineman came out in 1968) I have trouble truly getting into what I’m hearing. Although this album came out long before my generation, I can appreciate it for what it is. Wichita Lineman is very good, with some exceptionally strong material.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’

by the time i get to phoenix‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ was the song which made Glen Campbell a star in 1967, thanks to a perfect combination of song, singer and arrangement. It is still an all-time, cross-genre classic, instantly recognisable and exceptionally good. A beautiful melody and wistful vocal are matched by a heavily orchestrated arrangement, which sweetens the record for pop consumption despite the bittersweet lyric, which tells of a man leaving his lover while she sleeps. Glen had already had a few minor country, and even more minor pop, hits, but this was the single which hurtled him into the bigtime, and deservedly so. It was a #2 country hit, and reached the top 20 AC and top 30 pop, although it doesn’t actually sound particularly country even by the standards of the Nashville Sound. It was in the contemporary pop and open categories that he won Grammies for the record (his earlier country single ‘Gentle On My Mind’ won the same year in the country category). Glen was mainly associated with country music professionally, but his work was often hard to categorise, and with a song this remarkable, one ceases to care. The song has enjoyed great staying power; by 1990 it had become the third most played song over the previous half-century, and is known internationally.

A second single, ‘Hey Little One’, was not so successful, but still made the top 20 on both country and AC charts. It was a cover of a Dorsey Burette pop hit from 1960, and it is capably sung by Glen but a little dull.

A cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s folk-rock/pop hit ‘Homeward Bound’ is nicely sung, but here the heavy orchestration (not dissimilar to that on ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’) inappropriately swamps a song about a ‘one man band’ folkie on his travels. A stripped down acoustic version would have been lovely.

Ernest Tubb’s ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’ works better with the Glen Campbell-and-orchestra reworking. Glen’s passionate vocal is impressive (although it verges on going over the top towards the end), and completely reimagines the song from Tubb’s original hard country shuffle. Another effective altered interpretation arises with a relaxed loungy version of a lesser known Bob Wills tune, ‘I’ll Be Lucky Someday’.

Glen is more faithful to the original when he takes on ‘My Baby’s Gone’, a Hazel Houser song best known for the Louvin Brothers’ version. Glen’s version is very nice indeed, beautifully sung and interpreted, and while the arrangement has dated a bit, especially the backing vocals, it still sounds good. This is my favourite track here after ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’.

Bill Anderson’s ‘Bad Seed’ has more of a rock feel. Neither Glen nor Bill comes across as much of a rebel, but the song works pretty well, about a bad boy drifter who shows little regret about leaving his latest girl. ‘You’re Young And You’ll Forget’, written by Jerry Reed, is another leaving song portraying a rambling soul. ‘Cold December (In Your Heart)’ is a 60s pop ballad, written by Alex Hassilev of the contemporary folk group The Limeliters, and is pleasantly performed.

Glen co-wrote a couple of the tunes. The perkily upbeat ‘Back In The Race’ is enjoyable. The closing ‘Love Is A Lonesome River’ is a melodic lost love number.

This is a very good album, but certainly not a traditional country one. It mixes country, folk, rock and sophisticated pop/AC sounds even handedly, and helped to set the template for Glen Campbell as an artist.

Grade: A-

Spotlight Artist: Glen Campbell

glen campbellAs he slowly fades away due to Alzheimer’s, I think it appropriate that we take a look at the long and illustrious career of Glen Campbell.

Assessing Glen’s career is very difficult because he was so very talented. As a singer and musician he probably was as talented as anyone who ever graced the American musical stage. Over the course of his career Glen placed eighty songs on Billboard’s Country, Hot Hundred and Adult Contemporary charts with many of the songs appearing on multiple charts. Many of his singles charted in England, Australia and Ireland, with scattered hits in non-English speaking countries.

Glen could sing anything and sing it well, be it rock and roll, country, pop standards, rhythm and blues or folk. Jimmy Webb heard an early Glen Campbell single on the radio and decided that he wanted Glen Campbell to sing his songs.

As a musician you can hardly name a stringed instrument that Glen Campbell couldn’t play. He was a wizard on the twelve string guitar, six string guitar (electric and acoustic), bass, banjo, fiddle, If you can name it, Glen Campbell probably could play it.

Although Glen was not especially known as a songwriter, he did pen a few songs. He might have written more songs, but with the top songwriters of the day pitching their best material to him, there wasn’t a compelling need for him to do so.

Glen Travis Campbell was born in 1936 in the town of Billstown, Arkansas; however, he was usually billed as being from the nearby town of Delight, Arkansas. He started playing guitar as a teen and moved to Albuquerque in 1954 to play in his uncle’s band and later to form his own band. In 1960 he moved to Los Angeles to become a session musician, playing on recordings by artists as diverse as Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Jan & Dean and Ricky Nelson. He also became part of a group known as the Champs and obtained a recording contract with Crest Records.

In 1962 Glen signed with Capitol Records. Capitol had great faith in the Glen allowing to record five non-charting albums and a bunch of relatively unsuccessful singles before finally achieving his first solo top twenty country single with “Burning Bridges” in 1966. Along the way he became a touring member of the Beach Boys, filling in for Brian Wilson on road dates.

Capitol Records teamed Glen with producer Al DeLory in 1966. The first collaboration, “Burning Bridges” got the ball rolling for Glen. From that point forward over a decade’s worth of hit singles and best-selling albums would follow, along with a television show, movie roles and many concert appearances . Although Glen’s recording career would cool off during the 1980s, he would continue to place singles and albums on the charts through the end of the decade and into the early years of the 1990s. A brief renaissance would occur after 2005.

Our spotlight series will start with Glen’s first platinum album Gentle On My Mind, but the five albums that preceded it are worth investigating as they will show Glen in a variety of setting of musical settings from bluegrass to traditional country to folk to rock to pop country. I would particularly recommend checking out The Astounding Twelve String Guitar of Glen Campbell and The Big Bad Rock Guitar of Glen Campbell to get a dose of Glen’s awesome instrumental prowess.

We are proud to present Glen Campbell as our November Spotlight artist.

Album Review: Heather Myles – ‘Sweet Talk and Good Lies’

sweettalkHer fifth studio outing found Heather Myles acting as a co-producer for the first time, sharing duties with Michael Dumas, who had produced her previous effort, 1998’s Highways and Honky Tonks. Sweet Talk and Good Lies was released in June 2002. It consists of twelve tracks, ten of which are Heather’s original compositions. The remaining two tracks are covers of Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”, which was popularized by Glen Campbell in 1967, American torch song “Cry Me A River”, which had originally been written for Ella Fitgerald. Both covers — and the later in particular — are creative stretches for Heather, but she pulls them off well. But with her original songs, which are the meat and potatoes of the album, she remains true to the Bakersfield sound.

The album produced one single, the mid-tempo “Never Had A Broken Heart”, which is by far the most radio-friendly song on the album. In the hands of a better known artist, it might have been a hit and it’s a bit surprising that no one ever chose to cover it. Heather’s version did not chart. “Big Cars” is another track that sounds mainstream enough to have been a hit for someone.

Pairing Heather with Dwight Yoakam seems not only like good move artistically, but also an opportunity to get some chart action. However, the Tex-Mex flavored “Little Chapel”, complete with mariachi horns, is decidedly non-commercial. The rest of the album is decidedly more traditional. The title track is somewhat reminiscent of “Wine Me Up”, while “If the Truth Hurts” sounds like it came straight out of Buck Owens’ catalog. “One Man Woman Again” — my favorite track on the album — is a beautiful retro-sounding ballad. Another favorite “Nashville’s Gone Hollywood” is Heather’s own version of “Murder on Music Row”, and unfortunately the lyrics are as relevant today as they were back in 2002. “Your Little Homemaker” is two parts Bakersfield and one part Loretta Lynn. A studio version of “Sweet Little Dangerous”, a song that Heather had performed on her 1998 live album, is also included here.

Heather pushes the envelope slightly with “The Love You Left Behind”, on which she breaks from tradition by including a subtle string section. It’s not a bad song but it’s a little maudlin and my least favorite. On “Cry Me A River” she shows that she is more than capable of handling torch material. I’ve always found “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” to be somewhat dull. I like it a little better after hearing Heather’s version, but it seems like an odd choice for her; I suspect it was included to demonstrate that she is more than just a honky-tonk singer. It does make one wonder what kind of career she might have had if she had been signed to a major label and been willing to modify her sound to accommodate the commercial demands of the time. Her disdain for pop-country may have prevented her from becoming a big star, but she did create some amazing music. I’m only sorry that she hasn’t been more prolific.

Grade: A

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Under The Covers’

Under The Covers is the first of Dwight Yoakam’s three covers albums; four if you count the compilation In Others’ Words, which consisted of previously released material, all cover songs. This set is a collection of songs originally made famous by mostly rockers, but with a sprinkling of rockabilly and countrypolitan sounds. Prior to writing this review, repeated listenings had familiarized me with all of Yoakam’s retreads, but I had yet to hear many of these in their original form until recently. What I found was that while Dwight stays fairly close to the original recordings for the most part here, he effortlessly infuses them with the signature sounds of his own hits: which means he’s amped them up, added some killer guitar licks and his trademark breathy twang to these rock and roll perennials.

Kicking things off with a paint-by-numbers take on Roy Orbison’s ‘Claudette’, the mood for this album is immediately established with this energetic tune.  Though the Everly Brothers recorded the first version as a B-side to their 1958 mega-hit ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’, Yoakam’s recording comes complete with the call-and-answer guitar work that instantly define an Orbison hit, and is more closely tied to Roy’s recording of the tune penned for his then-wife.  ‘Claudette’ was released as the album’s first single, but failed to make it farther than #47 on the Country Singles chart.  Even with the absence of a radio hit, Under The Covers still debuted at #8 on the Country Albums chart, and has to date sold over 350,000 copies.

From there, Yoakam jumps into punk-rock territory with his take on ‘Train In Vain’, the third single from The Clash’s 1980 London Calling album. Here, Yoakam puts a decided country spin on the song, with its plucky banjo lead and the smothering of the lyrics with his Kentucky drawl.  Banjo-picking and added vocals by Dr. Ralph Stanley also elevate this track far beyond normal standards.

‘Baby Don’t Go’ features Sheryl Crow and as the second single, failed to chart.  The first hit by Sonny & Cher – before ‘I Got You Babe’ – it stands as one of those songs that didn’t really need a remake, even though the pair of singers give it the old-school try and the production recalls the doo-wop sound of the original, it lacks that 60s originality to my ears.  Also, Dwight singing the Cher lines and Sheryl singing Sonny’s lines in the verses certainly take away from the lyric’s punch. I’d much rather have heard their take on ‘A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done’.

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