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Glen Campbell's 'Canvas,' A Moving Farewell Album

In the liner notes to his new album, Ghost on the Canvas, Glen Campbell writes that this is "the last studio record of new songs I ever plan to make." Campbell has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, and intends to perform a farewell tour before retiring from the music industry.

Ghost on the Canvas has a melancholy air of valedictory about it. Musicians you would normally not associate with Glen Campbell, such as Jakob Dylan, Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, The Replacements' Paul Westerberg, and Guided By Voices' Robert Pollard have all been enlisted to contribute to the album, and their work amounts to a fond farewell to a skilled, often charming musician.

The production work here by Julian Raymond has been compared to the collaborations that Rick Rubin did with Johnny Cash late in that country legend's life. But one flaw of Ghost on the Canvas is that, unlike most of Cash's final work, there's a heavy overlay of sentimentality that occasionally weighs it down. The sound of Campbell's increasingly wavering, aging voice — he's 75 now — would have been sufficiently poignant. But then again, unlike Cash, Campbell himself has always been drawn to extravagantly emotional work, particularly that of Jimmy Webb. Webb doesn't appear here, but the album's title song, written by Paul Westerberg, is very much in Webb's grandiloquent tradition.

Glen Campbell has been a prominent, if sometimes elusive, presence in pop music since the 1960s. People who know him primarily from his Jimmy Webb-written hits such as "Wichita Lineman" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" frequently do not know about his early career as a Hollywood session guitarist. In the late '60s, Campbell was part of the so-called Wrecking Crew, a storied house band that played behind such hits as The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man," The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" and Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas." At one point, Campbell was a temporary Beach Boy, touring with the band in place of the emotionally fragile Brian Wilson. Teddy Thompson has written an upbeat, Beach Boys-y song for Campbell to sing on the new album called "In My Arms."

It would be hypocritical of me to say at this point that I've long been a big fan of Campbell's music. The overwrought qualities that characterize some of the music on Ghost on the Canvas have curtailed some of the pleasure I could take from his work. But I always respected his guitar playing and liked Campbell's public personality, on display in television — yes, I'm old enough to remember The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, in which he used his commercial clout and down-home Arkansas charm to give face time to lesser known artists he admired, such as Willie Nelson. Ghost on the Canvas is, overall, an honorable and at times moving piece of work. I wish Glen Campbell the best life he can possibly have.

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TERRY GROSS, host:

In the liner notes to his new album, "Ghost on the Canvas," Glen Campbell writes that this is the last studio record of new songs I ever plan to make. Campbell has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and intends to do a farewell tour before retiring from the music industry.

Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of "Ghost on the Canvas."

(Soundbite of song, "Nothing But the Whole Wide World")

Mr. GLEN CAMPBELL (Singer): (Singing) Nothing but the whole wide world to gain. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing but the whole wide world to gain. Nothing. Nothing. Got nothing but the whole wide, whole wide world to gain. I'm here on the blacktop...

KEN TUCKER: "Ghost on the Canvas" has a melancholy air of valedictory about it. Musicians you would normally not associate with Glen Campbell, such as Jakob Dylan, Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, The Replacements' Paul Westerberg, and Guided By Voices' Robert Pollard have all been enlisted to contribute to this album. Their work amounts to a fond farewell to a skilled, often charming musician.

(Soundbite of song, "A Better Place")

Mr. CAMPBELL: (Singing) I've tried and I have failed, Lord. I've won and I have lost. I've lived and I have loved, Lord. Sometimes at such a cost. One thing I know, the world's been good to me. A better place awaits, you'll see.

TUCKER: The production work here by Julian Raymond has been compared to the collaboration that Rick Rubin did with Johnny Cash late in that country legend's life. But one flaw of "Ghost on the Canvas" is that unlike most of Cash's final work, there's a heavy overlay of sentimentality that occasionally weighs down Campbell's album. The sound of Campbell's increasingly wavering, aging voice - he's 75 years old now - would have been sufficiently poignant. But then again, unlike Cash, Campbell himself has always been drawn to extravagantly emotional work, particularly that of Jimmy Webb. Webb doesn't appear here, but the album's title song, written by Paul Westerberg, is very much in Webb's grandiloquent tradition.

(Soundbite of song, "Ghost on the Canvas")

Mr. CAMPBELL: (Singing) I know a place between life and death for you and me. Best take hold on the threshold of eternity and see the ghost on the canvas. People don't see us. Ghost on the campus. People don't know when they're looking at soul.

TUCKER: Glen Campbell has been a prominent, if sometimes elusive, presence in pop music since the 1960s. People who know him primarily from his Jimmy Webb-written hits such as "Wichita Lineman" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" frequently do not know about his early career as a Hollywood session guitarist. In the late '60s, Campbell was part of the so-called Wrecking Crew, a storied house band that played behind such hits as The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man," The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," and Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas." At one point, Campbell was a temporary Beach Boy, touring with the band in place of the emotionally fragile Brian Wilson. Teddy Thompson has written an upbeat, Beach Boys-y song for Campbell to sing on the new album.

(Soundbite of song, "In My Arms")

Mr. CAMPBELL: One, two, one, two, three, four.

(Singing) Got an easy place to be, in my arms, yeah in my arms. I got a simple space to feel free, in my arms, yeah in my arms. Keep it on the recent. Keep it on the now. Give you an easy way out. It's a lovely world that I got.

TUCKER: It would be hypocritical of me to say at this point that I've long been a big fan of Campbell's music. The overwrought qualities that characterize some of the music on "Ghost on the Canvas" have curtailed some of the pleasure I could take from his work. But I always respected his guitar playing and liked Campbell's public personality, on display on television - yes, I'm old enough to remember "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour," in which he used his commercial clout and his down-home Arkansas charm to give face time to lesser known artists he admired, such as Willie Nelson. "Ghost on the Canvas" is overall an honorable and at times moving piece of work. I wish Glen Campbell the best life he can possibly have.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed Glen Campbell's new record called "Ghost on the Canvas."

You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org. And you can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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