As a guitar player himself, Carlos Santana is a long-time guitar aficionado. Witness his collaborations for albums with Neal Schon (for Santana III), and jazz-rock pioneer John “Mahavishnu” McLaughlin on Love Devotion Surrender, as well as songs with Eric Clapton (“Jingo”), Jeff Beck, and many, many other players. Thus, it was a natural step for him to pay tribute to a number of six-string legends by covering their trademark songs on his latest album: Guitar Heaven.
On this latest Santana CD, Carlos picks a wide variety of artists to honor, from a 30-year range spanning the 1960s to the 1980s. He must also be given credit for straying from his “comfort zone” on this album. For while Santana has, in the past, pushed the limit of his playing into the hard rock arena (most notably on ’80s cuts like “Open Invitation”), that is not his area of expertise. Additionally, Carlos also chooses some of the most iconic songs in these players’ catalogs, making it difficult, if not impossible, to equal the original.
Santana featuring . . .
In keeping with the pattern set by the phenomenal success of Supernatural, Carlos is paired with a variety of current singers, a move which serves to add a twist to the original, as well as introducing classic songs to a younger audience through the venue of singers from bands they know and love.
Thus, the Latin-rock legend works with singers from Creed, the Stone Temple Pilots, Linkin Park, and Bush, among others. Instrumentation is provided by the current Santana band, including Dennis Chambers on drums, Bill Ortiz and Jeff Cressman on trumpet and trombone, respectively, and the long-time percussion duo of Karl Perrazo (timbales) and Raul Rekow (congas).
Opening the album is the venerable Led Zeppelin staple “Whole Lotta Love.” While he doesn’t have the panache of Robert Plant, ex-Soundgarden singer and solo artist Chris Cornell does a solid job on the vocals. Unfortunately, Carlos is competing with Jimmy Page, who was not only a creative blues-rock guitarist, but also an extremely innovative producer. Santana fits in tolerably well, but doesn’t add anything new to the song.
Next is the Rolling Stones number “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” Stone Temple Pilots vocalist Scott Weiland, while clearly better technically than Mick Jagger (who isn’t?), doesn’t have the overwhelming vocal charisma that allowed the Stones front-man to become one of the most celebrated lead singers of all time. The rhythm guitar is woefully inadequate, but Carlos does a better job on the lead — especially the extended outro, probably because it gives him the freedom to play in his traditional style.
The producers allow the percussion to stand out more than usual on the third track, Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love,” and it does add a nice feel. This is especially highlighted by the decision to leave some space in the verse guitar riff: a clever touch. Matchbox 20 principal (and singer of the celebrated “Smooth”) Rob Thomas is a bit lackluster on the verse, but comes off much stronger singing the chorus. And Carlos sounds better than usual here, his ’60s-tinged wah-wah technique working well in the mix.