By Aashu Anshuman:
You rarely come across classic rock covers which manage to bag a second listen. Even rarer is an album which is a compilation of covers of some of the best rock songs of the yesteryears. And one of the greatest guitarists of all time coming out with such a compilation is something every rock lover dreams of.
But Carlos Santana has given us just that — a record which comprises of some exceptional covers of some of the most celebrated rock songs ever. Guitar Heaven is a departure from Santana’s other recent albums which consisted of original songs. Personally, I am glad he decided to try his hand at covers. All of them have Santana on the guitar while, like on the other Santana albums in the last decade or so, the vocals are provided by various artists.
The album starts off with an excellent rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love. It has a stronger and more metallic feel to it than the original. While it has a lot in similar with the original, the fabulous leads by Santana are un-mistakeable. This is something which you get to see throughout the album. Santana has stuck to the original tune most of the time but has left an imprint which any Santana fan can identify in the first listen. The vocals on the first track have been provided by Chris Cornell and he has done a fine job. High notes have never been a problem for him and he has, quite expectedly, did more than merely manage to pull off a Robert Plant in this track. The next song “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” has some excellent shredding from Santana. The vocalist is fine too but this one of those songs where the Santana phenomenon just takes over everything else.
The next two tracks are my favourite on the album and each one for a different reason. The first of these is “Sunshine of Your Love” (Cream). Rob Thomas is as good as he was on “Smooth”. But again, Santana simply takes over the song. He has given a very foot-tapping feel and a lot of energy to the song, although the notes are pretty much the same. The result is a track you would probably want to put on repeat and keep listening to over and over again. That is unless someone told you that the next song is probably the best cover ever of The Beatles’ classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. A pretty much unknown (at least I had never heard of her before) India.Arie gave me a cover I unashamedly admit, I like even better than the original Beatles’ version. Kill me for that but at least give the song a listen before you pull out your daggers. It is one o those songs you would like regardless of whether you are a Beatles fan or not (and trust me the soul of the original is still completely intact in this track). Santana is smooth as usual, but on this occasion the vocals are overwhelmingly haunting.
The next song is a surprise, not because of its quality but because a Def Leppard song is quite out of place in this album. Though I must mention that Daughtry does a very nearly perfect imitation of Joe Elliott on this song.
AC/DC is one of my favourite bands and the next track, being “Back In Black”, was the one I was awaiting the most. The only time I have been more disappointed in someone else was after seeing India’s performance in Cricket World Cup final of 2003. It was difficult to tell what made Santana choose Nas for the vocals even before I had heard the song. Now that I have heard the song, Santana himself cannot convince me that there could have been a worse choice than he-whose-name-rhymes-with-gas for the vocals. And it doesn’t stop there. What was Santana thinking when he chose to do this to an AC/DC classic? But then the old man has given us some excellent songs, so I should probably not be so hard on him. Right? Wait till you here the next track. Although the rendition of “Riders of the Storm” is not as bad, it must have been enough to make poor Jim Morrison turn around in his grave.
I was pretty much intent on giving up but decided to listen to just one more track. It was “Smoke on the Water” after all. There was a lot of guitar and thank God for that, as the vocals were ordinary at best. But it was good enough to hold me for yet another song, Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away”. It didn’t take me more than a minute to know that I loved it. Good vocals. Pretty much plain aping, but really good. The song has a very fun-filled vibe to it. The next song “Bang A Gong” was just as good. “Little Wing” was well done with some excellent work from Joe Cocker. The rest of the album moved on pretty much the same level thereon. “I Ain’t Superstitious” was one song I hadn’t hear before. So I can’t really compare it to the original. I liked the individual effort though.
The album winds up with the cover of one of my most favourite Red Hot Chili Peppers (another favourite) songs, “Under the Bridge”. I got to hear a lot of clearly new sounds in this rendition of the song. And I liked what I heard. The song started out quite different. In fact, this song was among the ones which saw the most change from the original. The Santana I got to see in the song was more like the one I had seen his previous album. I also liked Andy Vargas’ vocals and that he tried to bring something new to the song and succeeded to a fairly large extent. This track was my second favourite on the album after “While My Guitar…”.
This album marks the occurrence of something extraordinary. Santana covers his contemporaries who, in most cases, are no less legendary in stature than him – Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Angus Young, Van Halen and Eric Clapton among others. While he succeeded in many of his attempts and was smooth as usual in all his songs, I often missed his signature Latin sound. The vocals should have been a lot better on many of the songs as they either could not keep up with the guitar (I know it is Santana they are playing with, but still). The album definitely deserves one listen. And while some songs are exceptional (“While My…”, “Sunshine…”, “Whole Lotta Love” and “Under the Bridge”), I would fully support AC/DC if they ever decided to sue Nas or even Santana for what was done to “Back In Black”. All in all, a good album with some pretty good guitaring throughout and mostly average vocals. A must buy for a Classic Rock fan though.