Credit: Julie Jacobson/AP
Carlos Santana gave a sneak listen to his new album, “Guitar Heaven…The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time,” in Las Vegas this week and we were among the lucky few who got to hear it.
As he’s done with his past several albums, the legendary guitarist Santana pairs with a number of contemporary and veteran artists for his new set. But unlike his Grammy-award winning “Supernatural,” this collection is all covers of some of the best known songs in rock.
Clive Davis, chief creative officer at Sony Music Entertainment, who signed Santana 40 years ago to Columbia, hosted the party, playing eight tracks from the set, which was produced by Howard Benson and Matt Serletic, along with Santana and Davis.
So how is it? We’ll do a full review closer to the album’s Sept. 21 release, but like most collections of this sort, some tracks work better than others. Hand down, our favorite (and, remember, this is based on one listen through club speakers) was Santana’s hard-churning take on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell on vocals. Cornell is one of the few artists who can take on Robert Plant’s pliant pipes and Benson did a great job producing him here.
The clear single is a remake of Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away” with surprisingly lighthearted, facile vocals by Train’s Pat Monahan. We’re told that will come out later, but the first single serviced to radio this week is a lovely reinvention of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” with India.Arie and Yo Yo Ma. Producer Serletic arranged a beautiful introduction that puts a delicate spin on the George Harrison-penned classic.
Some versions are fairly faithful renditions, while others, such as Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” (with Rob Thomas, in an obvious effort to recreate “Smooth’s” winning combo) take the best of the original and incorporate Santana’s Latin fusion. Nas appears on AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” but newcomer Robyn Troup totally steals the song as she imitates Brian Johnson’s powerful howls. (Early press releases had Janelle Monae on the song, but sources say that at the last hour, it didn't work out) Regardless, Troup, who won NARAS’s “My Grammy Moment” competition a few years ago, is a future star. We look forward to her Serletic-produced debut.
We also attended a special edition of Santana’s show at the Hard Rock Casino’s The Joint nightclub. Supernatural Santana: A Trip Through the Hits” is just that: an energetic, highly enjoyable romp through the guitarist’s 40-year career, including such tracks as “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va," “Evil Ways,”and, of course, “Smooth.”
On this night, India.Arie, Chris Daughtry and Gavin Rossdale performed their selections from “Guitar Heaven.” The true surprise was Rossdale. On the recorded version of “Bang a Gong,” he sounds restrained and down in the mix (again, we were listening on speakers in a club better suited for bass, so the actual recording may sound different), but on stage, he was pure lightning, singing full out, dancing around Santana and energizing both the audience and band. He stayed on for a noteworthy version of The Zombies’ “She’s Not There.” India.Arie was lovely on “Guitar,” as well as on Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.” Daughtry performed his “Guitar Heaven” selection, a remake of Def Leppard’s “Photograph,” that, similar to on the record, should work, but just misses the mark. Daughtry is a fine singer, but he doesn’t have Joe Elliot’s power or range and it’s not a song that fits Santana particularly well either, especially when compared to the other songs on the collection originally done by Santana’s peers.
The highlight, as it should be, was watching Santana and his incredibly talented band. The guitars, percussion and organ create a wall of Latin-infused sound that shakes you to your bones in the best possible way. Sitting during much of the set was not an option. Santana is all about, as he says, “connecting the molecules to light.” We have no idea what that means, but if that’s what it feels like, we’re all for it.
For the casual fan, the highlight was main set closer “Smooth” with Rob Thomas’s vocals ably handled by longtime Santana singers Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas. But for the hardcore longtimers, the memory of Santana’s soaring encore of “Soul Sacrifice,” with footage of his performance of the song at Woodstock playing behind him, is what they will take home with them.
"GUITAR HEAVEN: THE GREATEST GUITAR CLASSICS OF ALL TIME"
Standard edition - final track listing:
“Whole Lotta Love” featuring Chris Cornell (Led Zeppelin)
“Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” featuring Scott Weiland (The Rolling Stones)
“Sunshine Of Your Love” featuring Rob Thomas (Cream)
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” featuring india.arie and Yo-Yo Ma (The Beatles)
“Dance the Night Away” featuring Pat Monahan (Van Halen)
“Back In Black” featuring Nas (AC/DC)
“Riders On the Storm” featuring Chester Bennington and Ray Manzarek (The Doors)
“Smoke On the Water” featuring Jacoby Shaddix (Deep Purple)
“Photograph” featuring Chris Daughtry (Def Leppard)
“Bang A Gong” featuring Gavin Rossdale (T. Rex)
“Little Wing” featuring Joe Cocker (Jimi Hendrix)
“I Ain’t Superstitious” featuring Jonny Lang (Howlin’ Wolf, Jeff Beck Group)