Glen Campbell's New Soup

Veteran singer's new album mixes modern hits with under-heralded classics

Jul 8, 2009 at 2:06 pm

The “comeback album” or “career reinvention” disc has become almost a rite of passage for older musicians, especially those who first scored with Boomers and now want to inject some hip currency into their repertoire.

When it works, as it did with Johnny Cash’s rootsy American Recordings series, it can be among the artist’s best work ever. When it doesn’t … well, has anybody heard from Pat Boone since 1997’s hilariously disastrous In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy?

One of the better such albums came out last year: Meet Glen Campbell. The now-73-year-old Campbell returned to Capitol Records, home for his iconic Jimmy Webb-penned 1960s hits like “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” “Where’s the Playground, Susie” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” (And in the mid 1970s, still on Capitol, he recorded a couple of huge non-Webb hits, “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights.”)

With producer Julian Raymond, Campbell and a taut supporting band interpreted 10 songs by the likes of Travis, Green Day, Foo Fighters, U2, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne … even the Velvet Underground’s “Jesus.” And he did it while sounding like Campbell, with his boyishly gentle, clear Country Pop tenor finding the melodic sweetness in each song.

Still, those are some pretty edgy Rock and Alt acts for Campbell to be covering.

“I just smoothed them out,” he says, chuckling during an interview from his Los Angeles home. “I saw some bumps in the road and smoothed them out.”

It’s extraordinary to hear Campbell tackle, and tackle well, such personal songs as Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These,” Paul Westerberg’s “Sadly Beautiful,” Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” and even John Lennon’s wistful “Grow Old With Me.”

He likes them all.

“A good song is a good song and it always will be,” he says. “In the past I’ve put things on albums that producers said were really good but I didn’t feel good about. I didn’t do that with this album. I did it because I wanted to sing those songs.”

Long before Campbell started having hit records in the late 1960s and early '70s, he was already a seasoned veteran of the L.A. session-music scene as a member of the loosely-affiliated Wrecking Crew that provided the playing on countless hits for Phil Spector, The Beach Boys, Fifth Dimension, The Association, Frank and Nancy Sinatra and others.

He had begun playing guitar as a sharecropper’s son in rural Arkansas, eventually heading west to find his fortune. He joined the Wrecking Crew, sometimes doing as many as five sessions a day. He credits his success with a talent he picked up as a kid — using a capo on his guitar, which clamps down on the strings and changes the pitch. He also started recording songs under his own name. The first to make radio impact — it was a modest hit in 1965 — was a Folk Rock version of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s protest song, “Universal Soldier.”

“I thought it was a really good message,” he says. “It was more or less my protest song, because what they fight over … it’s called ‘money.’ It made a statement and I wanted to say it.”

Campbell still has the highest respect for Webb, who was just past 20 when he wrote Campbell’s hits. They then worked together on a 1974 album called Reunion, and Campbell has recorded numerous Webb songs since.

As the discussion turns to Webb, Campbell asks his wife Kim to bring in the lyrics of a Webb song from the early 1990s called “Postcard from Paris.” He performed it at a 2007 concert with Webb in Malibu, amid talk at the time that they were collaborating on a new album. He’d like to work with Webb again.

“That would make a good album,” he says. “I’m going to do that.”

GLEN CAMPBELL performs Saturday at the Belterra Casino Resort & Spa in Vevay, Ind. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.