Santana – Guitar Heaven (CD review)

Santana – Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time (Arista) – CD review –

Carlos Santana should be commended: while most of his classic rock contemporaries are playing the nursing home circuit, he is still putting singles on the pop charts.  And he’s done it with a brash mix of guest vocalists and slick production.  He’s still one of the greatest guitarists alive, so having Santana give his take on 12 road-worn classic rock staples on Guitar Heaven sounds like a decent idea.

But, some of these songs are so closely tied to their original artists, that it’s impossible to please anyone (how can you outdo Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”?).  Also, by keeping with the formula that gave him his recent hits, he gets into even stickier territory: you end up having hallowed rock songs done in a contemporary pop style.  So, “Sunshine of Your Love” featuring Rob Thomas ends up with a dance beat, which just doesn’t cut it.  The CD starts out on a good note, with a decent runthrough of “Whole Lotta Love” with Chris Cornell on vocals, and a tasty, Latin-flavored middle section where Santana stretches out a little.  Problem is, there isn’t enough of this on Guitar Heaven; most songs are played pretty straight, as far as structure goes, allowing little space for Santana to strut his stuff.

Part of the blame rests on the vocalists: Scott Weiland turns in a completely faceless performance of the Stones “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin'” with absolutely no grit from the original, while Daughtry does nothing to elevate Def Leppard’s “Photograph” above bad karaoke.  Even when the producers are doing something different, as in Nas’ hip hop take on AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” they ruin it by adding cheesy backup singers and gloss.  The best is truly saved for last, with Jonny Lang tearing it up on Jeff Beck’s “I Ain’t Superstitious.”

It’s also no surprise that Santana seems inspired by his performance, and the soloing on that track sizzles like nowhere else on the disc.  Truth is, the tried and true formula that got Santana his most recent popularity just doesn’t work in a classic rock setting — he’s just going to make the faithful mad.  Here’s hoping Santana’s next record doesn’t follow the familiar blueprint and forges something new and different. –Tony Peters