Glen Campbell: Adiós Review

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Glen Campbell: <i>Adiós</i> Review

Since he announced his Alzheimer’s diagnosis in June 2011, Glen Campbell has released three records. The first, Ghost On The Canvas, followed the revelation by just a few weeks (in fact, Campbell and his wife made the announcement to preemptively explain any onstage confusion during that album’s tour). At the time, Ghost made a perfect capstone for a legendary career: full of the swelling strings and reverberating guitar melodies that marked his 1967-75 heyday, yet decisively modern thanks to songs by Paul Westerberg, Jakob Dylan and even Robert Pollard.

Since Ghost and its accompanying tour were framed as Campbell’s last, the 2013 release of See You There came as something of a surprise. But that record, which featured new, stripped down recordings of Campbell’s classics (think Rick Rubin’s work with Johnny Cash), provided a touching portrait of an aging giant. The bare arrangements revealed the cracks in Campbell’s still-mighty voice, but nevertheless cemented his ownership of those songs. If Ghost On The Canvas was a tearful farewell embrace on the platform, See You There worked as the final wave from the departing train.

So then, what to make of Adiós, Campbell’s new-last album? It doesn’t have the scope or texture of Ghost and so doesn’t supplant it as Campbell’s final statement. See You There is far more vulnerable, making it an ideal career postscript. Adiós feels instead like a love letter left behind, a rush of goodbyes and appreciations and parting thoughts jotted down to make sure he leaves nothing unsaid.

Though he recorded Adiós in the same sessions that yielded See You There, Campbell’s voice sounds better on this record: slightly aged, but still remarkably rich and surprisingly versatile. And while he pairs beautifully with Vince Gill’s equally powerful voice on Roger Miller’s “Am I All Alone (Or Is It Only Me),” Campbell completely overshadows Willie Nelson on “Funny How Time Slips Away,” leaving the Red-Headed Stranger sounding like a novelty crooner on his own song.

Listen to an exclusive recording of Glen Campbell performing “Gentle on My Mind” in 1985.

In fact, Campbell proves once again that he’s his generation’s finest interpreter of others’ songs, taking on compositions by Bob Dylan, Jerry Reed and Dickey Lee. Jimmy Webb, perhaps the writer most closely associated with Campbell, contributes four of the album’s 12 songs, including the weepy, aching “It Won’t Bring Her Back” and the subdued title track.

The lone misstep is the opening cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” which lacks the youthful optimism in Harry Nilsson’s definitive 1969 reading. Though buoyed throughout by daughter Ashley’s animated banjo work and by soaring background vocals in the outro, the song sounds more matter-of-fact than hopeful.

Campbell’s illness looms large over Adiós, and weaving tragedy into lyrics like “I gotta go now/ I guess I’ll see you around” or the double meaning loaded into the question “Have I lost your love, or have I lost my mind?” In fact, nearly every song has at least one heartstring-tugging allusion to departure or mortality, and for the most part, those lines work. Campbell delivers them with the kind of class and grace that characterized much of his career.

But none hits harder than “Arkansas Farmboy,” a Campbell biography in song by Adiós producer and longtime collaborator Carl Jackson. When Jackson wrote “The weeds have grown high on the farm down in Dixie/where cotton and corn used to grow” more than 30 years ago, no doubt the farm represented Campbell’s hardscrabble childhood. Today, though, it’s hard not to imagine the farm as Campbell himself. And when he sings of the “five dollar guitar/that led to a fortune/I’d trade just to go back in time,” it’s even harder not to wish that he could.