Here are some things Meet Glen Campbell is not:
• It’s not ironic or insincere. Campbell’s vocals on “Grow Old With Me,” for instance, are as convincing (if a touch more weathered) as on “Wichita Lineman.”
• It’s not a gimmick or a joke, like the hokey Pat Boone-ifications of In A Metal Mood.
• It’s not produced by Rick Rubin, doesn’t sound like it, and isn’t as dreary as if it had been.
• It’s not a reclamation project, like Bruce Springsteen’s for Gary “U.S.” Bonds or Tom Petty’s with Del Shannon, where anyone came forward with new material, custom-written for Campbell.
Yeah, about the material. Despite a sticker on the CD shrink-wrap claiming Glen “hand picked” these “classic tracks,” the man himself writes in the booklet that producer Julian Raymond “hand picked” the songs and came to the veteran singer-guitarist with the album concept. This means that someone “hand picked” songs from such unlikely sources as Green Day and the Velvet Underground (along with more obvious selections, like Tom Petty and Jackson Browne), set them in arrangements that evoke Campbell’s late 1960’s classics, and recorded them with contributions from the likes of (former Jellyfish) Jason Falkner, Wendy Melvoin, Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander and Rick Neilsen, and five of Glen’s kids.
Anyone familiar with only Campbell’s lesser-quality, though hugely popular hits, like “Rhinestone Cowboy,” might expect Meet Glen Campbell to be a short trip to squaresville. Bear in mind, this guy’s first single was one of the hippest songs Brian Wilson’s ever written, and he was covering Allen Toussaint when Elvis Costello was still answering to the name, “Declan.” And three of Campbell’s greatest recordings (“By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Galveston,” and “Wichita Lineman”) cemented his reputation as the ultimate interpreter of the eternally-hip Jimmy Webb’s music.
In the absence of new Webb songs of that quality, the selections on this album make sense. How different is his recording U2’s “All I Want Is You” in 2008 from covering “Reason To Believe” or “Dock of the Bay” (both on the Wichita Lineman album) in 1968? Most listeners who are familiar with the newer songs on this album are too young to remember that, when Campbell was enjoying his early success, it used to be standard practice for mellow singers like John Davidson and Andy Williams to routinely record the day’s softer rock hits. Meet Glen Campbell is very much in that tradition, although they chose some songs — the Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These” in particular — that rocked pretty hard in their original versions.