Anyone with a family member or close friend suffering with Alzheimer’s disease in their twilight years can do nothing but applaud See You There, Glen Campbell’s reinterpretation of some of his classic songs. At 77 and living with this debilitating condition, that Campbell could come up with something quite as touching as this album is remarkable in itself. Much of the credit should go to producers Dave Kaplan and Dave Darling who took the vocals Campbell laid down for many of his cherished hits while recording his 2011 album, Ghost on the Canvas, and knitted together what you can now hear on See You There.
Opening with a mellow take on “Hey Little One” (from Campbell’s 1968 album of the same name), the immediate impression is that the singer’s distinctively rich voice has weathered well. His diction is more deliberate and delivery more considered, but the sustain he gets on the repeated “hey”s reveals a strong, clean tone. Matured by age and experience, it seems Campbell can still muster power and passion while hitting a true note. The Jimmy Webb-penned songs included in this collection all show the resilience that great songs should. “Galveston” gets a makeover from its upbeat pop original, slide guitar and accordion lending it a much more contemplative feel. The new arrangement seems particularly in tune with the lyric sentiments of an absent soldier missing his hometown and special girl.
“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” is a given late-night lounge arrangement with soft drums and gentle guitars emphasizing its regretful tone. The mournful viola that issues in Webb’s “Postcard From Paris” augurs well and the female harmony that flits in and out of the song is a nice touch, though overall the song’s narrative is perhaps too obviously whimsical. Most successful of the Webb quartet is “Wichita Lineman”, which ditches its signature string-driven transmission for a muted organ stab and sees Campbell at his most assured vocally. With the tempo nicely measured and pedal steel echoing the lonely life of the lineman, the production reflects Campbell’s solitude perfectly.
“Rhinestone Cowboy”, written by Larry Weiss, was a song that marked the increasing convergence of country music and mainstream pop, topping Billboard’s Hot 100 and Hot Country Singles charts simultaneously in 1975. On See You There, it’s re-imagined as a minimalist daydream, lending the contrast between the narrator’s down-at-heel lot and his wish to emulate the showman’s lifestyle added poignancy. The slightly distorted guitar behind Campbell’s bruised vocal is a fitting complement, while the line “but I’m gonna be where the lights are shining on me” sounds more believable this time around.
John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind” was Glen Campbell’s breakthrough single and takes its place here, although the song’s breezy arrangement is a bit predictable and Campbell’s tone unusually clipped. Mostly, though, the ensemble players (including co-producer Darling) provide sensitive and thoughtful accompaniment, never coming close to over-powering Campbell. The emotive “There’s No Me…Without You” from Campbell’s last album, Ghost On The Canvas, is a prime example. Its new alternative country arrangement fits the song like a glove in comparison to its former, overblown version and underscores the hope that goes hand in hand with a recognition of aging: “Heaven is a place for two/ there’s no me without you.”
See You There may turn out to be Glen Campbell’s swansong and, if that is the case, it’s a fair testimony to the man. The temptation to be maudlin is largely avoided, though the inclusion of two versions of “Waiting On The Comin’ Of My Lord”, the second of which features Jose Hernandez & Mariachi Del Sol De Mexico, seems unnecessary. It may be celebratory in tone but unbalances things by over-emphasising mortality and bible-belt sentimentality. This version of “Wichita Lineman”, on the other hand, is something deserving of eternity.
Essential Tracks: “Wichita Lineman”, “Rhinestone Cowboy”, and “There’s No Me… Without You”