Back in the early ’00s, there was a brief and odd resurgence for old country singers. It became the cool thing for legends to release new albums, consisting entirely of rock covers, to try and tap into a new, younger fan base. Johnny Cash, perhaps, did it best by teaming with super producer Rick Rubin on the American Recordings collection. Pat Boone also joined in with a country covers album of heavy metal tunes. Glen Campbell did the same, much later, with the under-appreciated Meet Glen Campbell in 2008. The album consisted of covers from bands like Foo Fighters, Green Day, and Lou Reed. Unlike the grittiness of Cash’s work and the kitsch factor of Boone, Campbell was comfortable in the pop songs and created lush-yet-country versions of the tracks. Now in 2011, Campbell is back with Ghost on the Canvas, a companion to the previous album, but this time all the songs are original.
Campbell’s producer for Meet Glen Campbell, Julian Raymond, helped him produce Ghost on the Canvas and also helped him co-write a majority of songs, such as the simple opening track, “A Better Place”, which is about as country as the album gets. Aside from Raymond, Campbell was able to corral an incredible team of songwriters: Paul Westerberg, Jakob Dylan, and Robert Pollard, among others. Westerberg wrote the titular track, which sounds almost like Yoshimi-era Flaming Lips in parts with its anthemic strings and powerful chorus. Dylan’s contribution, “Nothing but the World”, takes Campbell back closer to his country roots and allows him to tell us a little about his past and upbringing. It’s beautiful, simple, and one of the better country songs I’ve heard in a long time.
Not only are great songwriters included on this album, but Campbell also drafted an excellent stable of musicians: Billy Corgan, Dick Dale, The Dandy Warhols, Josh Freese, Chris Isaak, Rick Nielsen, Brian Setzer, and Wendy Melvoin from The Revolution. Kind of beats Cash’s inclusion of Fiona Apple and Tom Petty, doesn’t it?
You don’t have to be a fan of country music to enjoy this record. In the end, Campbell has a deft ear for pop music, and this album is a perfect example of that. Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009, and he has decided that this will be his last album. This makes the songs, particularly Pollard’s “Hold on Hope”, even more touching and poignant. Dylan’s song also gives Campbell a chance to get his story out before it’s gone. Now, would these songs be as strong without knowing of Campbell’s fight with Alzheimer’s? Yes. However, they are that much stronger with the knowledge that this is Campbell using all his talent, culminated from 50 years of being in the business, 45 million albums sold (12 gold, 4 platinum, 1 double platinum), and nearly 70 albums released, to create arguably the best album of his career.
Essential Tracks: “Nothing but the World”, “Hold on Hope”