Carlos Santana: Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time

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Carlos Santana
Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time
[Rating: 2.5 stars]

Carlos Santana must wake up every day thanking his lucky stars for Clive Davis. For most of the past four decades, the producer/record company executive has helped keep Santana on commercial track whenever he’s wanted to veer. And it was Davis who, more than a decade ago, started putting Santana together with young, hot singers to help keep his name alive.

Albums such as Supernatural, Shaman and All That I Am featured vocalists Rob Thomas, Seal, Dido and others in a calculated move to sell CDs, which is fine, given that the music business is, after all, a business. But the latest Santana/Davis project, Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time, may well be the final nail in the coffin of AOR.

On the all-covers Guitar Heaven, Santana hopefully meant to pay tribute to some of his friends and heroes, and not just simply try to get back on the charts. This is an album of (supposedly) great guitar songs which features, as usual, an array of hot younger singers. Chris Daughtry does a great job on Def Leppard’s “Photograph,” Scott Weiland tackles the Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’,” and Chris Cornell turns in a nice vocal on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” But how are “Photograph,” Van Halen’s poppy “Dance the Night Away” and the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” considered “great guitar classics?”

As for Santana the guitarist, a lot of this album is the same thing he’s done for the past 40 years, bending one screaming note for three measures while people call it art. He does turn in a great performance on the old Willie Dixon/Jeff Beck nugget “I Ain’t Superstitious,” showing guest vocalist Jonny Lang how the old guys do it. And his work on “Riders on the Storm,” featuring Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, may be his best playing on the album, with the song’s atypical structure forcing him to go outside a little. But much of this album misses the mark horribly, barely making it a cut above those “music in the style of (fill in the blank – Eagles, Garth Brooks etc.)” records.

The first single from the CD is “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” with a vocal by India.Arie and Yo-Yo Ma on cello. This song is an absolute classic, almost sacred, and Santana’s playing makes this thing almost unlistenable. Where Eric Clapton brought it to life by making a statement and leaving some space, Santana starts overplaying almost immediately. And the ghastly treatment of AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” with Nas rapping the vocal against Santana’s incessant wah-wah pedal…please, somebody get me outta here. And Cornell notwithstanding, “Whole Lotta Love” with congas? I don’t think so.

Here’s the big question: Since Santana himself is a guitar god, why are there no Santana songs here? Like maybe a new version of “Black Magic Woman,” where Carlos can really shine on some nice minor key blues licks, with perhaps Ian Astbury or Eddie Vedder doing the vocal? It’s hard not to be too judgmental here, but his contemporaries – i.e., Clapton, Beck, even Neal Schon – are still trying to make a go of it, and Santana does an album of covers? This will be a good record for backyard barbecues and beers, but not for much serious listening.


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  1. You’re kidding, right? The music was innovative and interesting. If what you truly believe is that no one should ever do versions of other people’s songs, then, unless you were required to review it, I would have left it alone! The best songs on the album were the ones that he took chances on including “Back in black” and “While my guitar gently weeps”. Very few artists can improve on originals, but Santana is one of those that can.

  2. Hey Rick Moore, I bet if you went to a Santana concert and he played any one of these songs you’d be boppin’ in your seat and going “wow that was a great cover of that song” but because he decided to do a whole album of them he is criticized.
    You pick ‘Riders on the Storm’ as “the best playing on the album”? Sorry, but that solo is the sloppiest on the album and Santana should be embarressed to have released it as is. It sounds as though it was a one-off recording with a huge glaring mistake in the solo. As for the rest of the album, ‘While my guitar gently weeps, Back in black, I ain’t Superstitious’ are outstanding. And yes Rick…. ‘Whole lotta love’ with congos…. I guess you’ve forgotten who Carlos Santana is. Here’s a reminder, he’s one of the greatest rock guitarists ever, pushing 70 years old (can you say Woodstock?), playing with anyone who is anyone and playing what he wants to play. Right on! He’s doing something new, different and refreshing while he still has the time and ability to do it with talented people who want to do it with him. A music career doesn’t get any better than that. Lighten up and go along for the ride. You pine for yet “another version of Black Magic Woman”?….. c’mon man, Santana’s done that to death. Talk about “backyard barbeque music”.

  3. I completely disagree with this. Santana said in his interview with Guitar World that he didnt want to play the song as it is. He said that if you want to hear an exact cover of a Van Halen song, just go listen to Van Halen. His idea with this album was to tear down the song and completely recreate it to make it his own, and I think he did a great job with that. I’m not saying anyone has to like this album, but you should respect the fact that he’s trying something new instead of trying to make an exact cover of the songs that have already been played by other bands millions of times.

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