In 2009, while recording Ghost on the Canvas, it became apparent to legendary singer and guitarist extraordinaire Glen Campbell that he was suffering from what would be officially diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. As a result, that album—a critically acclaimed release that featured songs by the likes of Paul Westerberg, Jakob Dylan, and Robert Pollard, among others—was intended to be his farewell album. But after a farewell tour—chronicled in the moving 2014 documentary I’ll Be Me—he managed to eke out another all-new album (See You There) and his brand new one, Adios, appears to be the real goodbye, as Campbell is in the final stages of the disease.
I’m reminded of The Wind, Warren Zevon’s 2003 swan song that was recorded after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer. Like that album, Adios is not a definitive representation of the artist by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still an admirable piece of work and shows Campbell in fine voice, singing his heart out despite the disease that eats away at his memory.
The songs on Adios represent compositions Campbell has long admired and wanted to record but never got around to. Fred Neil’s classic “Everybody’s Talkin’” opens the album and it fits Campbell like a glove, which is not surprising seeing how it’s basically cut from the same cloth as the hits he was known for. The relaxed gallop of the music meshes well with Campbell’s soothing pipes to the point where you begin to wonder whether it was he and not Harry Nilsson who made the song a megahit. Legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb—who wrote such stellar Campbell signature songs as “Wichita Lineman”, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Galveston”—contributes four songs here, and while they pale in comparison to those classics, they still work well with Campbell’s only-slightly-aged voice. Webb’s compositions—“Just Like Always”, “It Won’t Bring Her Back”, “Postcard From Paris” and the title track—are perfectly decent songs but tend to veer more towards syrupy adult contemporary than classic country (or even classic crossover).
Campbell really thrives on Adios when given top-shelf material that digs a little deeper into more traditional country sounds. Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” is included here as a duet with Nelson himself (but not in any way an indication that Adios is overloaded with guest stars—Vince Gill’s harmonies on Roger Miller’s “Am I All Alone” is the only other such appearance). The arrangement is easygoing and laid-back, with Campbell’s voice soaring over the more subdued Nelson, and it comes off as two old pals kicking back in the studio. Banjo player and longtime Campbell family friend Carl Jackson, who produced Adios,, contributes one of the album’s high points, “Arkansas Farmboy”, and it’s a sheer joy to hear Campbell tackle this old-school country waltz, complete with fiddle and banjo, on a song written specifically for and about him.
Never really known as a “cry in your beer” country singer, Campbell rights that wrong with a splendid take on “She Thinks I Still Care”, first made popular by George Jones in 1962. An old-school country covers album would have been an excellent late-period project for Campbell, as this song demonstrates. Another high point of Adios is Campbell’s cover of Jerry Reed’s “Thing Called Love”, a song popularized by Johnny Cash, which allows Campbell to admirably embody both of those late legends. Furthermore, his version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” is closer in spirit to Reed’s version, transforming it from a moody folk classic to a light country stomper.
When Campbell closes Adios with Webb’s title track, it’s apparent that the end is near, although he seems to have little to no regrets. “Drinking margaritas all night in the old cantina / Out on the California coast,” he recalls. “Don’t think that I’m ungrateful.” Not unlike “Keep Me In Your Heart”, the final track of Zevon’s final album, it’s hard not to tear up upon hearing Campbell’s final lines: “I’ll miss the blood red sunset / But I’ll miss you the most / Adios, adios.”
Adios indeed, Glen. You’ll be missed.
// Notes from the Road
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