Glen Campbell, it will probably come as no surprise, was a Republican and a redneck. When he first met Jimmy Webb after they'd enjoyed a few big hits without ever seeing one another, Webb showed up in his long hair, and Campbell quipped "Why don't you get a haircut?". It wasn't a joke nor was it friendly. Webb speaks about it here, which is why these CD/DVD combination affairs are so valuable, reliving lost years and key events. Campbell may have been a shitkicker, but the sonofabitch could sing and play; Webb may have been a hippie, but he's proven to be one of rock and pop's great songsmiths. Without the latter, the former, despite all talents otherwise, would never have enjoyed the fame and prosperity he came into. Fate, it seems, loves to wear a grin whenever she can.
You know all the songs on this set, they're way the hell famous, but it's very likely you've never heard these 1988 duets (with backing orchestrations and a session man or two) recorded between the two men who eventually grew very close, each highly respecting the other's acumen. The third cut, Galveston, is what nailed me. It's so radically different from the Top 40 version, so much more intimate and heartfelt, even as affecting as the hit single was, that it becomes nearly an entirely different tune. The reason is because, as Webb points out, Campbell had earlier upped the tempo significantly and began to lose the song's real body and feel. Only here, as Jimmy wryly details, does it settle back into what he wrote.
Then there's one of the world's great guilty pleasures, MacArthur Park, which no one sees as Jim Webb's Keith Reid (Procol Harum) song…but it is. I've yet to hear a bad version of that track—even the punker and oddball covers send it up with an affection that's unmistakable—as it's one of those strange but compelling art-pieces so well put together that it can't be wrecked. However, it also tests, in its upper register, any singer's range, no matter who tackles it, and Campbell, you'll see and hear, acquits himself very well indeed. It's likewise a track where you get to hear Campbell's Roy Clark-ish chops in a very cool double screen of him dubbing the lead over his own chords, a solo that will have more than a few rocking back on their heels. MacArthur Park stands with Wildfire, Sylvia's Mother, Honey, and a number of others as one of those bafflingly unignorable compositions. I suspect that in the year 2385, human beings, and maybe a few Martians, will still be listening to it and asking "Why the hell is that damn song so good?!?! It shouldn't be but it is!"…just like they do now.
A very important part of the gleaming success of this session (in the DVD shown in two segments and with more conversation) is the fact that it was audienceless, intimately conducted. In that atmosphere, no one had to play up to we punters, the landscape was just artist to artist to artist, with all that means. The glitter's never brought in, the excesses never dragged out for cliché approval, the posturing and preening left in the closet. I'm telling ya, I don't care if you listen to Led Zeppelin or King Crimson or Metallica or Iggy Pop or whomever, if you dig music as music, you're going to get goosebumps in several spots here at minimum. Frankly, I'll take Jimmy Webb over, say, Burt Bacharach every day of the week, and, after hearing those Sinatra duet CDs with pop rockers, one can't help but wonder what might've resulted had Glen Campbell decided to do the same thing…and excuse me while I wipe the drool from my mouth.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles