SANTANA – “GUITAR HEAVEN”

Santana

“Guitar Heaven”

(Arista)

 

Many rock fans were understandably leery about a Clive Davis-inspired album project in which the Arista/J Records president asked legendary guitarist Carols Santana to perform interpretations of rock classics while having some of today’s hottest rock vocalists lend him a helping hand.

Images of a bad night at a karaoke bar or a typical episode of Fox’s “American Idol” certainly crossed many minds. In short, this looked like an easy way to sell CDs and downloads to baby boomers as well as to Gen X and Y.

Surprisingly all traces of cynicism disappear when listening to this album, though much of it is safe and predictable. It start outs that way with Santana paying tribute to Jimmy Page and former Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell doing his best Robert Plant impression on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” with Rob Thomas playing the role of Jack Bruce while Santana is Eric Clapton, also falls into the expected category. Both tracks are well done, and there’s no doubt the listener is in good hands, even if no new ground is broken.

But to his credit, Santana is more than willing to roll the dice a bit on some tracks. Bringing in Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington to offer a low-key take on the Doors’ 1971 hit “Riders on the Storm,” instead of doing a Jim Morrison impression, was brilliant. Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek is a backing player on the track. Santana also took a gamble bringing in rapper Nas — a Queensbridge native — to do a hip-hop version of AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s gutsy.

I had forgotten what a great year 1972 was for rock until I heard Santana and Papa Roach lead singer Jacoby Shaddix team up for Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” and Gavin Rossdale channel the late Marc Bolan on T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong.”