Wednesday, February 15, 2012


For those of you who saw Campbell on the Grammy telecast, doing his Vegas act on his biggest (and perhaps worst) hit, Rhinestone Cowboy, he's a lot cooler than that at times.  Given the time limits, the tribute barely scratched the surface of this remarkable man's career, not only one of the great singers, the ultimate crossover artist, and most superb guitar players of the last 50 years.  Torn between studio work and trying to carve his own career in the 60's, Campbell was a charter member of the awesome Wrecking Crew, responsible for many of the great hits of the 60's, used by everyone from Phil Spector to Brian Wilson to Frank Sinatra.  I prefer to think of the emotion in his work with the songs of Jimmy Webb, including Galveston and By The Time I Get To Phoenix.

Then there's this beauty, a wonderful later-career disc.  This isn't his most recent album, but the one before it, his comeback album of 2008.  At the time, Campbell teamed up with the much younger producer Julian Raymond, who had the idea of remodelling Campbell using modern, somewhat alternative and left-field songwriters and material:  works by Foo Fighters, U2, Paul Westerberg, and Lou Reed.  But before you scream Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin, it wasn't quite the same.  While Raymond used the same trick of making surprising and excellent song choices, the production was actually full-on, rather than the stripped-down records Cash and Rubin made.  It's a fabulous sound, part modern, and part classic Campbell, great big sounds with horns and strings, and classic guitar and banjo licks straight out of the 60's.  There are so many great versions, such as Jackson Browne's These Days, rich and emotive, Campbell given lots of room to soar, and rising to the occasion.  Turning Green Day's Good Riddance into a folk ballad with a driving drum track and mandolin solo is sheer bravado, and again, a complete success.  The only time you feel like Campbell might be heading  back to Branson, Missouri material is on the gospel cut Jesus, until you realize it's Lou Reed's song.

This updated version is met to tie in with the Grammy bounce, and there's some nice additions.  There are two remixes of classics, Gentle On My Mind and Galveston, really just the normal cuts with the sonics cleaned up.  Then there are three cuts for an AOL session, the highlight being Wichita Lineman with Campbell proving he still has it, a take on U2's All I Want Is You, featured on the main album, and unfortunately, a similarly cheesy Rhinestone Cowboy.  He really should have done Galveston on the Grammy's.

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