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 for me
A better place awaits
-Glen Campbell, "A Better Place"
Simply put, Ghost On the Canvas is the album of Glen Campbell's life. Take that as literally or figuratively as you like and it still is the case. With beauty, power, heartfelt emotion and deep spirituality, this set of songs - a song cycle, if you will - traces the arc of Campbell's 75 years: From dirt-poor, tiny-town Arkansas origins to Hollywood triumphs on the pop charts, TV and movies. From barnstorming days of youthful touring to hobnobbing with Elvis, Sinatra and the Duke. From troubled freefalls of addiction and bad life choices to personal and spiritual redemption.
It's all here in this series of songs, starting with the prayerful invocation quoted above and concluding what Campbell has said will be his final album with a glorious, celebratory guitar jam featuring his own still-stellar chops alongside those of such colleagues and acolytes as Billy Corgan, Brian Setzer, Rick Nielsen, Jason Falkner, Marty Rifkin, Steve Hunter, and Tim Pierce. The album was largely written by Campbell with producer-collaborator Julian Raymond, complemented by contributions from Jakob Dylan, Paul Westerberg, Teddy Thompson and Robert Pollard, with evocative instrumental interludes composed by Roger Manning as musical illustration. Raymond, who squired 2008's arresting Meet Glen Campbell, on which the artist matched his esteemed talents with vital material originated with such artists as Jackson Browne, U2, Green Day and even the Velvet Underground, here shapes a vision as unexpected as it is rewarding.
But it's also a moving, engaging and masterful musical experience in its own right. Ghosts, in the forms of allusions to beloved songs from his vast catalog of cherished hits, abound - the soaring strings and perky lilt of the title track and "Any Trouble" echoing without imitating the sounds that first took him to the top with "Gentle on My Mind," the organically lush swell of "It's Your Amazing Grace" reminding that Campbell was arguably the first "countrypolitan" star, the sunset hues of "A Thousand Lifetimes" bringing us up to date with that old "Wichita Lineman." But as Ghost On the Canvas recaps, it more so renews and transcends Campbell's colorful history. It is, again simply put, a terrific listen.
"A Better Place" matches its confessional tone with Campbell's lovely finger-picked guitar and a voice undiminished by the years, the same voice that's been such a friend to so many for several generations. The title song, one of Westerberg's entries, segues in with its telegraph pulse, more acoustic guitar and comfortingly enveloping strings pointedly recalling two of Campbell's breakthrough hits, "Gentle On My Mind" and "Wichita Lineman" - Westerberg's stated dream to become Campbell's new equivalent of Jimmy Webb," writer of "Lineman" and other Campbell hits realized. It's a song of craft, grace and depth, at once worthy of Westerberg's reputation stretching back to his days with the Replacements and of the Campbell canon.