Personnel: Glen Campbell (vocals, guitar); Jimmy Webb (piano).
Liner Note Author: Lee Hildebrand.
Recording information: 12/09/1988.
In 1965 Glen Campbell was a session guitarist and singer from Arkansas who had played and sung on countless surf, hot rod, and sunshine pop records that labels and studios in California were issuing in the mid-'60s. After he filled in for Brian Wilson as a touring member of the Beach Boys that year, the Beach Boys' label, Capitol Records, offered Campbell a solo recording contract, which paid off two years later when Campbell's pop-folky country version of John Hartford's poetic and tumbling "Gentle on My Mind" hit the pop charts. Campbell's solo career was on the way. Meanwhile, Jimmy Webb, an Oklahoma-born songwriter, was just starting to place his elegantly crafted songs with recording artists. He had written a song called "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," a beautifully realized song about love slipping away, which pop crooner Tony Martin recorded for Motown Records. Motown never released it, but somehow Johnny Rivers heard it, and it was through Rivers that Campbell encountered the song. Campbell's version topped the charts at the end of 1967, and he commissioned another song from Webb. It was the start of a unique and fluid collaboration and friendship between the two, both of whom helped each other get their careers off the ground. The song Webb came up with, "Wichita Lineman," was a gorgeous, haunting piece of contemporary Americana full of longing, distance, loneliness, and resigned exhaustion that became the middle song of a loose song cycle, the so-called "town songs" cycle, with "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and 1969's equally compelling and impressive "Galveston." This set is a rare look at the singer and the songwriter performing together, Webb on piano and Campbell on guitar and singing, filmed, taped, and recorded in 1983 in the Hamilton, Ontario studios of CHCH-TV as part of the Canadian concert series In Session. The sound is sparse and perfectly fitted to letting the songs themselves shine out, and while the versions here of songs like "Wichita Lineman" and "Galveston" (which is done slower than the original single -- the slowed-down tempo somehow fills the song with even more yearning) are elegant and reverent, they certainly don't replace the original single versions, but they do augment them. The video portion of the In Session show is also here, with filmed interviews with Campbell and Webb. As an archival-type release that shines light on what Webb and Campbell created, particularly with the "town songs" cycle, this set is well worth a listen. ~ Steve Leggett