By the early 1980s, country singer Glen Campbell’s career was on the decline. He’d ridden high for the better part of the Seventies—both figuratively and literally—but the new decade hadn’t been kind. Thus, after twenty years and over thirty albums with Capitol Records, he found himself without a record label. He signed to Atlantic America Records in 1982, and it’s his output for the label that comprises Morello Records’ new two-disc set, offering up his three studio albums from his three-year tenure.
The move to a new home gave him a temporary boost and a level of success not seen since 1977’s Southern Nights, released at the height of the Urban Cowboy movement and a surprising country/disco hybrid that still resonates and sounds fresh 42 years later. Unfortunately, like many country artists of the time, Campbell’s sound got ensnared in the dreadful and often quite flat Eighties country production style, and he three albums here, 1982’s Old Home Town, 1984’s Letter To Home, and 1985’s It’s Just A Matter Of Time often sound quite anodyne.
The first album of the set, Old Home Town, is the best of the three. It’s an album of fresh sounds, with Campbell doing what he does best—painting vivid images in song set to a diverse array of arrangements, all reflecting back on his prolific career. (This was his 39thalbum, after all!) It was a promising start for a new label relationship; the album charted in the Top 40, and songs such as the hillbilly romp “Blues (My Naughty Baby Gave To Me”) and the mellow Urban Cowboy single “I Love How You Love Me” are quite easy on the ear, and ballads “Ruth” and “On The Wings Of My Victory” are satisfyingly thoughtful. The only true misstep here is his cover of Wings’ “Mull Of Kintyre.” The original possessed an unforgettable arrangement thanks to a heavy bagpipe accompaniment. The bagpipes here feel inauthentic and lifeless, while Campbell’s singing here lacks any real passion.
His next two albums, Letter To Home and It’s Just A Matter of Time, are very much of a piece; produced by Harold Shedd—best known for being the producer of Alabama—Campbell’s being led into a more Modern Country sound. It doesn’t work; though Campbell had utilized string sections and backing singers on some of his previous hits, the material sounds slick and radio friendly, lacking the spark of his best work. In spite of the dull and generic production, he did have a number of hits from these two records; Letter To Home found him returning to the Top Ten Country charts with “Faithless Love” and “Lady Like You,” while third single “Letter To Home” graced the Top Twenty. The first two are ballads that fit nicely with the best of his catalogue, and the down-home country of the third wasn’t bad, either. “It’s Just A Matter Of Time,” a cover of the now-standard Brook Benton composition, was another Top Ten hit, and is a highlight from the latter part of his career.
Sadly, aside from those hits, the two albums are mostly forgettable, yet both contain one outstanding exception. Letter To Home contains a cover of Stevie Nicks’ “After The Glitter Fades,” and Campbell’s take on the tale of the bittersweet side of superstar success is not only convincing, it serves as an interesting coda for where his career would soon go. It’s Just A Matter Of Time offers up a pure gem of a song, “Cowboy Hall Of Fame,” written by his longtime songwriting collaborator, Jimmy Webb. Melodically similar to “The Highwayman,” and featuring Webb as arranger Al De Lory as orchestra leader, it’s a wonderfully produced song that stands out from the more dreadful album tracks. (It’s a testament to the poor quality of the material that Webb’s string arrangements aren’t recognizable.) Added to this collection is a rare bonus track–a superb rewrite of “The Tennessee Waltz” entitled “They Still Dance To Waltzes In England” that name-drops numerous locations and cultural icons of the country.
Yet Campbell’s world was changing. In the midst of his tenure at Atlantic America, he recorded and released a gospel album for Word Records. Though the album never appeared on the country charts, it did establish Campbell as a Contemporary Christian artist, as he became a born-again Christian during this time. He would sign to MCA Records, and though his career as a charting artist would come to an end, he became recognized for his accomplishments and retained his legacy until his passing in 2017. Though the era that these albums represent was far from his best, he still retained the spark of old and did produce some fantastic singles that are worth revisiting and remembering.