Carlos’ celebrated talent is bound somewhat by the pieces he’s covering here.
Mike Diver 2010
Twenty-eight years passed between number one albums for Santana, 1999’s globe-conquering Supernatural the group’s first chart-topper since III of 1971. Since then, the band has enjoyed a spell at the peak of the stateside albums chart with 2002’s Shaman, and 2005’s All That I Am reached number two. Guitar Heaven follows the formula of its preceding trio, guitar hero Carlos joining forces with an array of guest vocalists. The major difference is that this is a covers collection, with tunes picked from the catalogues of acts like The Rolling Stones, Cream, Deep Purple and AC/DC.
Nobody can doubt Carlos Santana’s ability with a six-string – his standing among the all-time greats cannot be questioned. Few guitarists play as if their instrument is truly an extension of themselves: Hendrix could, Clapton can, and Carlos is more than worthy of their company. But covers albums are dangerous projects for acclaimed musicians to tackle, as their abilities are likely to be bound by the constraints of the material at hand. And so it proves on Guitar Heaven, as Santana’s talent is compromised by a complacency to play these tracks as truly as possible. Sure, there’s flair where a little breathing space permits, and nothing is performed without precision – Carlos’ as-solo band here, recording alongside the guitarist for the first time, deserve respect. But nothing becomes Santana’s own – and this is something that can’t be overlooked, despite exemplary showings from central players and guests alike.
Carlos gets fingerboard busy on George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps, coming close to giving the Beatles classic a truly unique spin, and India.Arie’s soulful vocal is genuinely affecting. It’s an exception amongst a raft of pleasing but perfunctory takes, though. Chris Cornell does a brilliant Robert Plant impersonation on Whole Lotta Love – should Stars in Their Eyes return, someone needs to book the Soundgarden singer for a celebrity edition – and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington’s subdued performance on The Doors’ Riders on the Storm is equal parts alluring and unsettling. But embellishments usually consist of Carlos letting rip for a few seconds, and such virtuosity is no substitute for stirring passion.
If you truly love these songs, you’ll remain loyal to the originals at every turn. But if it’s to Carlos that your heart is faithful, enjoyment aplenty can be expected from a well-realised set that could well follow its predecessors’ commercial success.