Glen Campbell originally recorded the songs on See You There back in 2011 during his Ghost on the Canvas sessions. The more recent release features new, stripped-down versions of some of his most popular singles, this time without the lush strings and countrypolitan production of his youth. His voice has also aged. Campbell used to sound preternaturally young. Now his vocals range from the sweet to the raw and throaty.
This works to Campbell’s advantage on many of the tunes. He never sounded like the hobo who bummed around trains on John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind”. Now Campbell spits out lines such as “knowing I’m not shackled by forgotten words and bonds and ink stains that have dried upon some line” like a person who has learned that life is more than pieces of paper. The experience of time and memory reveals what truly binds people together. Another good example of this can be found in the updated rendition of “Rhinestone Cowboy”. Back in the day, the introductory lyrics about him “walking these streets so long / Singing the same old songs / I never crack in the dirty sidewalks of Broadway” seemed like a youthful boast. Today, the track conveys a more convincing truth about the compromises one needs to make to be successful. The song comes off as a meta-song: its slick production was one of the concessions he had to make for “Rhinestone Cowboy” to be a hit; now he can perform the song simply and honestly.
Other cuts do not fare quite as well. When Campbell crowns in his old man voice, “She was 21 / When I left Galveston,” one imagines he’s singing about his daughter or even granddaughter more than a lover. And on “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, when he emotes “She just didn’t know / I would really go,” the lyrics unfortunately suggest his closeness to death more than moving on. And changes in society have made “Wichita Lineman” seem as dated as “Come Josephine in My Flying Machine”. Does the sexist term “lineman” still exist? Is someone still needed to check telephone lines in a cellphone/smartphone world? Whatever.
Despite these problems, See You There is still quite a marvelous record with many more peaks than valleys. Of particular merit is Campbell’s new version of “Hey Little One” where he punches out the word “Hey” and lets it linger in the air for full effect. It suggests strength and weakness simultaneously in the sense that if the “little one” stays, the singer will be stalwart. However, he is weak without her. And there are two versions of the “Waiting on the Comin’ of My Lord” on the album. The first version features light accompaniment and suggests what happens to all of us: we die alone. Campbell sings poignantly and is never cloying. The second version comes as a bonus cut some 40 seconds after the end of the track before and features Jose Hernandez and Mariachi Del Sol De Mexico. Something more spiritual happens as a result. The other performers reveal because we all will die, we are never alone, but will be together in death. The metaphor of waiting for the lord to arrive as a twist on one day we will all meet our maker comes off as hopeful. And all I want to know is, how do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mr. Death. He may not be dead yet, but he sounds as ready as one can ever be. In the meantime on this, Campbell’s 62 studio album, he knows he will see as all there eventually.