IN THE late 1960s, Jimmy Webb was one of the world’s best and most successful songwriters. The instant standards he penned during that golden period, when he was still in his early twenties, are bejewelled classics, pop-craft royalty.
Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow ****
The onetime boy wonder is now a genial elder statesman who travels the world with his treasury of masterpieces, performing alone at a grand piano while spinning colourful yarns about his remarkable career. He was never a particularly good singer, but that doesn’t matter. His cracked voice adds an extra layer of pathos and soul to songs which were hardly lacking in that department in the first place.
He playfully acknowledged his limitations during a rendition of sunshine pop leviathan Up, Up And Away, when he encouraged the audience to help him with the high notes. His bare-boned version of Wichita Lineman – quite possibly the greatest song ever written – was spellbinding. He performed Galveston as a haunted lament, laying bare its elegiac anti-war message. Afterwards he joked that the irresistibly upbeat arrangement of the hit version by his finest interpreter Glen Campbell made it sound like an army recruitment anthem.
His deep affection for the recently departed Campbell was a recurring theme throughout this warm, intimate performance. And he’s right, the unfairly maligned lyric “Someone left the cake out in the rain” from the extraordinary MacArthur Park is a perfectly legitimate metaphor for a dying relationship. If Dylan had written that, it would be heralded as a piece of poetic genius.