The album that shares its name with arguably Glen Campbell’s most famous song, Gentle On My Mind is a verifiable country/western classic. Country/western from the ’50s-’70s doesn’t often find its way into my daily listening rotation. Not because I don’t like it, but I just rarely think about it and if I’m driving or something, I’d rather listen to something singable that I already know well. What’s been great about the last two weeks with this album is that it has forced me to listen to something I normally wouldn’t, and around listen number 3 or 4, I was really starting to enjoy it. I think this old stuff just takes a little more dedicated listening to get into than music I’m more prone to like.
What’s tough for me about this album is that about half of the album really resonates with me. And other half doesn’t. I had the album on while Colleen and I were running errands a few days ago and I went into QuikTrip to grab a Vitamin Water Zero Lemonade for her (she’s slowly getting to the pregnancy stage where she dislikes arising from a sitting position) and I came back out and “Crying,” the last song of the album, was playing. “Elvis is on.” she said. I laughed and realized about half of this album is slow, Glen Campbell really busts out the vibrato, and occasionally falsetto, in his voice. That’s what I’m not crazy about. The other half is unique. Good rhythms that carry a song along, or interesting chord progressions or thematically engaging lyrics. It is much more listenable to me than the operatic stuff because it feels more country/western to me.
It’d be nigh impossible to write about this album without spending some dedicated focus on the title track. John Mayer describes it as “scary good” in his iTunes Radio Guest DJ spot (which you should listen to if you find yourself in the car for two hours. He puts together one hell of a mix of great songs. “Gentle On My Mind” is actually a cover, the original written by John Hartford in 1967, with Campbell releasing his cover the same year.
Side bar, something I find weird is when an artist releases a cover of a song that is musically/instrumentally very similar to the original, especially if they release them close together chronologically. If I was John Hartford, I’d be annoyed that Campbell covered my song the same year I released it and his became a smash hit. If you’re going to do a cover, at least try to pull some sort of emotion out of it not found in the original. Campbell has a beautiful recording with this song, but thematically it hits the same sorts of notes as Hartford’s version, which to me, is actually the more pleasant version. Side bar over.
I know I just said I like Hartford’s better, but that doesn’t discount what a gorgeous tune Campbell has made. Maybe this is a little too pedestrian of me, but I tend to enjoy songs that match their lyrical and musical themes, even if it’s a blatant connection. While this might not be the most subtle of associations, the guitar part has this very flowing quality which connects to the river theme mentioned multiple times in the lyrics. It has a gorgeously melancholy feel to it.
Thematically, memory of past love is such a big bullseye to hit for a songwriter. It’s like the emotional jugular; few people are going to listen and say “Eh. Lame.” Everybody’s got a memory of Past Love to some degree, and songs this beautiful find those memories so easily and just exploit them. This is one of those tunes that, given a focused listen, can render the listener defenseless. That’s why it works. Campbell’s voice is so soothing and you can almost hear a smile as he sings, which to me makes it all the more emotional. He’s recalling someone in the past with a smile. Someone he doesn’t have anymore but thinks of fondly. Can somebody me get the tissues?
I am really glad I chose this one as the first in my Old/New Albums series. This album easily could’ve gotten 2 or 3 listens and been swept under the rug. Instead, I feel like I’ve had a proper introduction to Glen Campbell.
Top 3 Tunes:
- “Gentle On My Mind”
- “Just Another Man”
- “Mary In The Morning”