Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time comes off as a celebrity version of American Idol.
More than a decade ago, Supernatural completely changed Carlos Santana’s career. His Latin-infused classic rock sound was spiced up with a variety of modern Top 40 radio guest vocalists, thus reinventing him to older listeners and introducing him to a new generation. Supernatural is one of those rare albums that was both critically praised and loved by the public, selling millions of copies and winning nine Grammy awards. Since then, there have been three Santana albums that tried to duplicate that success by repeating the formula, but it’s now time for something different.
With Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics Of All Time, the concept gets a nostalgic touch, as classic rock songs themselves get re-imagined. The result comes off as a celebrity version of American Idol, in which the prize is not a record contract, but to have your track released as a single.
The album opens with Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave guesting on a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. While his vocals are clear and powerful and the instrumentation is spot on, the song goes on for a little too long. Stone Temple Pilots’ Scott Weiland performs on The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, but it’s nothing compared to the next track. The extra Latin percussion on Rob Thomas’ take on Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” is the best song on the album, and a likely contender for the next single. It, along with India Arie’s soulful version of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” are the rare examples of covers that paint their own rendition of a song, rather than just serving up a good imitation. On “Weeps”, classical artist Yo Yo Ma plays a haunting cello that’s reminiscent of George and Giles Martin’s official remix of the original version featured on the Love album. Should a third single be picked for release, I nominate Chris Daughtry’s cover of Def Leppard’s “Photograph”. While I wouldn’t have originally considered the 1983 hit as a “guitar classic”, Santana really comes to the forefront here, adding impressive guitar rifts to the mix.
Unfortunately, Nas’ rap-rock take on AC/DC’s “Back In Black” is a mistake, with most of the song being awash in an ill-fitting female vocal chorus. Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington’s echoed vocals whitewash the instrumentation on an otherwise solid cover of The Doors’ “Riders On Storm”, but things soon liven up. Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” is remade with the help of Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix, and his vocals have never sounded more clear and confident. Strangely, it is Santana himself who adds too much to the track, cluttering what was genius in its simplicity.
Rising to the challenge on an unlikely idea for a collaboration, Train’s Pat Monahan wraps his vocals around Van Halen’s “Dance The Night Away”. Afterwards, the re-imaging of T. Rex’s glam rocker “Bang A Gong” as a more straight forward rock track with Bush’s Gavin Rossdale is a nice surprise. Old-school classic rocker Joe Cocker slows things down a bit with a rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”, but the album closes with “I Ain’t Superstitious”, a lukewarm Jonny Lang cover of the Howlin’ Wolf blues staple.
While some might argue with Santana’s (and possibly producer Clive Davis’) selections on what constitutes “the greatest guitar classics”, that argument is better saved for the next bone-headed magazine that attempts such a list. Not to mention, this idea also easily lends itself to album sequels, and as good as some of these tracks are, that would be great.
It should be noted that there is also a deluxe version available, featuring two bonus tracks (Scott Stapp’s “Fortunate Son” and Andy Vargas’ “Under The Bridge”) and a DVD.