The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

SANTANA
GUITAR HEAVEN (THE GREATEST GUITAR CLASSICS OF ALL TIME)
Released September 2010

 

Oh man, I have tried so hard to hate this album: It’s everything I loathe about the old school record industry – a project assembled by fatcat A & R men and record execs smoking huge Cuban cigars having wet dreams about shifting a million units in the leadup to Christmas, with no concern for passion and feeling, just yelling “make it radio friendly”.

 

Not only that, but based on recent form I am completely justified in expecting this to be another of Santana’s bland and insipid late-career duets covers albums – and reading through the credits to see a variety of Digital Editors credited to each track doesn’t fill one with confidence that this would be anything other than a cynical pastiche where a variety of musos walk into a non-descript studio in whatever city they’re in, knock out a quick run through, then leave it to the protools guys to dissect and reassemble all the disparate elements into something which Mom and Pop will think their barely rebellious loved ones would want in their Christmas stocking…

 

However, try as I might, I just can't hate it - it’s not anywhere near as bad as I expected, in fact overall it's quite good and in places, inspired! Where Carlos has phoned in bland performances on recent releases, he shreds in his distinctive style here like a man with a spring in his step. He really does sound like he gives a shit – the blurb on the front of the cover reads “rock guitar’s greatest hits reinvented by Santana” and thankfully he (or his people) have pulled some of these songs apart and reconstructed them to suit his particular style.

 

Things work best when he slips some of his trademark latino influences into the mix – congas feature heavily to mostly great effect – and the guitar playing is incendiary throughout. There is the usual revolving door of high profile celeb guests, of course, and some work the material better than others.

 

Things start with a pretty standard run through Led Zep’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ elevated by a strong Chris Cornell vocal. Velvet Revoler/STP wild man Scott Wieland pitches in a bland shot at The Stones ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’, which is saved by Carlos’s fat and chunky guitar. Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas – a veteran of Santana’s duets albums – and our main man do absolutely nothing of note with Cream’s ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’... a real missed opportunity there.

 

‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ does George Harrison proud though – the music is reimagined, if a little mellow, the guitar work fantastic, and having India Arie and Yo Yo Ma appear proves more inspired than insipid.

 

Chris Daughtry tries hard with Def Leppard’s ‘Photograph’ but really goes nowhere, and while I’m sure someone thought it was a great idea to have Nas rap out the lyrics to AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’ with a fulsome female backing vocal (perhaps it will appeal to inner city home-boys across America), it does nothing for me but make me want to put on the original.

 

By the time we get to ‘Riders on the Storm’ featuring Ray Manzarek of The Doors, I realise the form here - the songs mostly are going to feature an inspired vocal OR be inspired musically, it’s rarely both. Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington comes off like a bad Glee parody of Jim Morrison here, but the interplay between Santana and Manzarek works much better, weaving magical strands together throughout this classic track.

 

I can’t recall ever hearing a cover of ‘Smoke On The Water’ except by a hundred bar bands, and no matter what Carlos throws at it here – the congas and soloing sound great, Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix must have had plenty of coaching to sound so unintimidated by the song, and it really does sound as vibrant and exciting s it can – but there’s not a lot of structural changes you can make here, and the song itself overshadows the players. A bloody good shot though.

 

Pat Monahan tries hard to make ‘Dance The Night Away’ his bitch, but once again the music doesn’t go anywhere fast and just leaves me wanting the original Van Halen version. The latin congas sound great, but it takes more than that to transform a song!

 

The mere appearance of celeb husband and Bush mainman Gavin Rossdale induces cringes, and he attempts a laid back Robert Palmer-styled vocal on T-Rex’s ‘Bang A Gong’ a la Power Station. The playing on this one is great and to be fair, Rossdale’s vocal may have been deliberately subdued to give Santana and his team room to flex their considerable muscles, but I can’t help thinking that Steven Tyler would have ridden the same soundtrack like a rodeo brumby.

 

Here’s a curio for you – Hendrix’s classic ‘Little Wing’. Great choice – it’s not overly obvious, and it provides room aplenty for Carlos to go into a guitar trance and shower us with piercing notes of crystal. Who would you have picked as a singer, though? I bet not many would suggest Joe Cocker – after all it’s been years since he rocked out properly. Well, big surprise – this is one of the best tracks on offer here! Cocker and Carlos weave voice and guitar ingeniously and to magnificent effect, soaring and inspirational.

 

Johnny Lang drives Carlos up a notch on a version of Willie Dixon’s legendary ‘I Ain’t Superstitious’. It’s fun, but bar room boogie is hardly innovative and this one is probably more suited to a blues album - something those record industry fatcats are probably already bouncing around for his next project.

 

 

In the two bonus tracks, Creed boy Scott Stapp does a faithful stab at CCR’s ‘Fortunate Son’, and Andy Vargas tackles Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s ‘Under The Bridge’, both are good, neither are great. Despite being a classic song, does ‘Under The Bridge’ qualify as a “guitar classic”? Certainly not one of “the greatest ever”!

 

The best offerings are some of the least likely – India Arie’s turn on Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and Joe Cocker and Carlos working together magically on Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’ – and there is enough here to make it worth the price of admission, with Carlos’s playing simply brilliant throughout.

 

With luck this will make those fatcats realise that rock is back and radio friendly housewife appealing blandness is, like, so 1990’s, dude!

 

Shane Rockpit