Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#774 in the Series) is Glen Campbell & Jimmy Webb, Reunion: The Songs of Jimmy Webb.
This album had its beginnings in those wonderful Glen Campbell hits of the late 60’s, five absolute gems released between 1967 and 1970 : “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Galveston’” “Where’s The Playground Susie ?”, “Honey Come Back” and, of course, the ever shining jewel that is “Wichita Lineman.” All five were written by one of the very best up-and-coming songwriters of the era, Jimmy Webb.
Before those recordings both men had careers which were very much on the ascent but when Glen decided to record the first of those songs (Phoenix) as the follow up to his superb hit “Gentle on My Mind” the results were spectacular and helped to raise both men’s careers to a whole new level. Jimmy’s songs and Glen’s golden voice, they just seemed to fit so well together and by some strange alchemy, magic was conjured.
Fast forward to 1974. In the intervening years both had continued on their very successful career paths. Webb’s songs were still in much demand and he’d embarked on a solo career, recording three well received albums on Reprise Records which had been a critical success, albeit without setting the charts on fire. For his part, Campbell had moved on to his own very popular TV show and had continued making some superb music. He hadn’t quite managed to match those earlier successes though and in fact hadn’t had a Top 40 hit in three years.
Which is probably why, somewhere along the way, some bright spark had a flash of inspiration : why not team them up and see if any of the old chemistry was still there ?
Naturally, it was !
Maybe the first thing that should be noted is that the title is a bit of a misnomer as the two had never actually worked together before. Although the pair had become friends during the “hits” period, none of the songs had been written specifically for Campbell and Webb hadn’t produced or arranged them, so it wasn’t really much of a Reunion really.
This was different though with Jimmy Webb pretty much in charge of the whole thing, writing most of the songs and arranging the full album. And what a sterling job he did, crafting a superb, lush musical template for Glen’s vocals to slip into, brilliant stuff.
There’s no messing with the formula here, from the off the sound is totally reminiscent of those early, classic hits, especially the strings, so lovely and evocative. Absolutely no attempt was made to experiment and Webb himself has stated that the aim was to reproduce the sound and feel (and the success no doubt !) of those earlier hits.
And it all starts, ironically enough, with one of only two songs chosen for the album not written by Jimmy Webb. “Roll Me Easy” was penned by a certain Mr. Lowell George and first recorded by his band Little Feat on their 1973 album Dixie Chicken. Webb was a big fan and friendly with George and he reckoned the song would be perfect for this project and he wasn’t wrong. It provides a great start and really should have been the lead single from the album, a missed opportunity there I feel.
“Just This One Time” fits that formula to perfection, starting off pretty subdued really, but within the first 45 seconds the voice starts to warm up, takes off, the strings kick in and it all just soars, gloriously.
And what about “The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress” which is simply one of the very best songs Jimmy Webb ever wrote and it’s given a masterful reading here, with Campbell putting power but also restraint into his perfect vocal. It’s another gem that could and should have been a single release, I’ve no doubt it would be loved by the many Glen Campbell fans who’ve only ever bought a “Greatest Hits” collection and there are MILLIONS of them !
The album closes with “It’s A Sin”, another beauty and this one actually did receive a release, it was the only single from the album, sadly. What a bittersweet way to leave us wanting more:
“It must be a sin when you love somebody / damned if you do / twice damned if you don’t”
What it all adds up to then is a really strong release which somehow managed to slip through the cracks. It never really took off, it didn’t even chart, something which I find incredible. What’s WRONG with people ! I firmly believe that there’s a good 2/3 songs here which could have been huge.
No matter. It didn’t seem to affect either’s career. Indeed, within a year, Glen Campbell had stormed back to the top of the charts with “Rhinestone Cowboy,” a massive #1 hit from the album of the same name which also contained another big hit “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet In L.A.)” and his superlative take on Randy Newman’s song “Marie”. That version is a must hear.
He and Webb worked together a few more times over the years actually, and he kept doing Webb songs, he was ,and remains a genuine fan of the man’s writing.
After a long and, frankly, wonderful career he released his last studio album Ghost On The Canvas last year and announced his retirement.
Jimmy Webb forged on also and released film soundtracks, books, several solo albums, his last offering “Just Across the River” was really good, with some fine duet partners on board.
The real magic lay in those early hits though, and this, one of the best album’s you’ve (maybe) never heard.
All tracks composed by Jimmy Webb; except where indicated
- “Roll Me Easy” (Lowell George) – 2:38
- “Just This One Time” – 3:42
- “You Might As Well Smile” – 3:31
- “Wishing Now” – 3:12
- “About The Ocean” (Susan Webb) – 2:57
- “Ocean In His Eyes” – 3:25
- “The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress” – 3:04
- “I Keep It Hid” – 3:24
- “Adoration” – 3:14
- “It’s A Sin” – 2:24
- Glen Campbell – vocals, acoustic guitar
- Jimmy Webb – piano
- Hal Blaine – drums
- Jim Gordon – drums
- Joe Osborn – bass guitar
- Dean Parks – acoustic guitar
- Buddy Emmons – steel guitar
- Larry Knechtel – keyboards
- See our review of Glen Campbell, Ghost on the Canvas
- See our piece on Jimmy Webb, Just Across the River
- Glen Campbell Official Website
- Jimmy Webb Official Website
Give it a listen below