In light of his recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, Glen Campbell’s latest and professed final studio album, Ghost on the Canvas (Surfdog Records), unavoidably achieves a poignant distinction. Yet in meditations on mortality, faith, and earthly love, this is not a work steeped in wallowing, mournful resignation.
In fact, Campbell, 75, sounds resilient and assured throughout – even when the words he’s singing suggest otherwise. “This is not the road I wanted for us, but darling it’s here,” he concedes to his wife in “Strong,” one of several songs co-written by Campbell and producer Julian Raymond, its lyrics offering an unshakable, against-all-odds vow of enduring devotion. Perhaps to illustrate the increasing adversity that lay ahead, he sings against a near-symphonic surge of turbulence, resounding as majestic and menacing at the same time.
A handful of other songwriters contributed tracks as well, including Jakob Dylan, who penned “Nothing But the Whole Wide World” especially for Campbell before cutting his own version on his 2010 solo album, Women & Country. Here Campbell invests the song with a sense of reflective wisdom that the much younger Dylan didn’t (or couldn’t) altogether convey. He enriches the stunningly beautiful title track – one of two standout selections composed by Paul Westerberg – with similar perception, his nimble voice complemented by the sort of hazy, swirling orchestration reminiscent of his definitive, classic recordings.
While Campbell’s illness provides its subtext, Ghost on the Canvas is ultimately about compassion and redemption, qualities which are best expressed in “A Better Place,” when in under two minutes he comes to terms with his fate. “The world’s been good to me,” Campbell acknowledges to God. “A better place awaits, you’ll see.”