Guitar Heaven: Santana's New Album - not so heavenly, imho

Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time (amazon link)

Youtube trailer for it here.

If that CD title sounds like it should be from the Time-Life Collection, and sold via-infomercial for $19.99, well, maybe there’s a reason. Santana is not my guy, but is a solid, melodic front-man player, and I enjoyed seeing him get some adoration when Supernatural blew up a few years ago. But this just seems like schmaltz.

As for the music - the songs are classics, the production is fine and many of the guest vocalists do a wonderful job. The biggest issues for me:

  • Santana doesn’t fit the songs - there are two kinds of lead guitarists: those who play to women and those who play to men. Santana is the first to tell you that he plays to women in the audience. Many of these songs are straight-up cock rock and don’t work for him. Fortunately, guitarists like Clapton and even Hendrix are similarly melodic in their playing so he can make his style work better with their songs.

  • The “Latin Flavor” - he basically “makes the songs his” by sprinkling in congas like they were MSG - a special additive that gives his stuff its distinctive kick. Enough.

  • The rhythm work is missing - the critical organic feel of the drums is missing - feels either too programmed/locked in or too much Latin is taking away from the laid back feel at the heart of many of the songs. When you hear Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ without Charlie Watts, Sunshine of Your Love without Ginger Baker, and Whole Lotta Love without John Bonham-quality drumming, but with an attempt at claiming a piece of those songs guitar-wise, it doesn’t quite work, imho.

A pretty big miss to my ear…and I am put off by the oversell feeling of the concept and the packaging…

Ah, bummer. He did three songs on Dancing with the Stars the other night, and much as I adore that show, it’s not my go-to source for great guitar. The three songs were “Oye Como Va,” which of course he can’t destroy, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which I thought was okay but not needing his remake, and some damn '90s thing I didn’t know.

I am a Santana fan, of sorts – his work on Love Devotion Surrender got him a lifetime pass to any Top Ten Guitarists list I ever write – but am not surprised that this one didn’t work.

Interesting—this is the first time I’ve heard this theory. Could you expand on it and/or provide additional examples?

Hmm, not sure what to say - it’s one of those “understood” things amongst guitarists. While many/most guy guitarists get started by fantasizing about how being a great player will impress the guys and win the girls, they tend to care about one more - and that influences their playing, their moves, etc. Pete Townshend’s aggressive stage moves and guitar style are targeted at guys, and don’t get me started about most hard rock / metal shredders; otoh, players like Neal Schon of Journey and Santana (yes, Schon played with Santana back in the day) are trying to cross their sound over for wider commercial appeal and their melodic lead approach does that.

For some reason, Carlos Santana reminds me of Kenny G. A very distinctive recorded tone, fine technical skills, very predictable melodic choices within a fairly narrow vocabulary. It seems to me that most competent lead players, if given access to his equipment and guitar tech and a few hours to listen to his oeuvre, could replace him on a recording and no one would notice.

So he plays Back In Black? I’m afraid to listen.

And Thudlow, I agree with WordMan: the guy/girl thing is there but hard to explain.

Townshend and Page were playing for the guys, Clapton played for the guys in the Bluesbreakers and for the most part in Cream, but switched teams later :D. Hendrix’s genius was that he he could play to either or both at the same time.

**Crotalus **- I like some of Santana’s stuff - especially the first 3 or so albums - enough to not lump him in with Kenny G, but I understand your basic point…

As for playing for guys vs. girls - agreed on all counts. Gilmour is another guy who sounds like he is trying to play for the girls but really impresses guys, too. He doesn’t approach the transcendent swagger of Hendrix, but he is more balanced than most player…

Don’t get me wrong, I like Santana. I wouldn’t seek him out, but he’s pleasant to hear, kinda like Kenny G, for me. It’s just that neither of them are players about whom I think “Oh he’s doing THAT song? I can’t wait to hear what he does with it.” I feel like I pretty much know what they’re going to do.

I’m sure that one of my favorite players, Mark Knopfler, is like that for some people. He constantly surprises me, but the surprises are subtle and not way outside of his range. Maybe I’m missing similar things in Santana’s playing, and maybe even in Kenny G’s.

I read an interview with Santana in the past few months (it was probably in Rolling Stone) in which he said something along the lines of, “the music’s gotta have a groove to get the women aroused.”

The Whole Lotta Love in the trailer sounds like the old Top of the Pops theme. Layered up like that you miss the quarter tone bend/dissonance that makes that riff. And… in the stop time guitar break I think he misses some of Page’s subtlety, it’s not just penatonics, there should be some funny chromatic tension in there.

The whole thing looks a bit pointless. The originals are definitve (at least the ones I recognise). Who needs a cover of Smoke on the Water? Why not go the whole hog and do Stairway, Comfortably Numb, Ace of Spades and Won’t get Fooled Again while you’re at it.

Check it out if you haven’t. The lyrics are rapped which could work well, but really doesn’t.

I think albums with rotating vocalists tend to be a mess. It takes a strong vision to bring it all together. Cover albums and tribute albums suffer from this as well. Since this album has both, it already has two strikes.

From listening to the samples, I agree with WordMan and others that this album is totally missing the rhythm. A lot of these songs should have killer grooves and they don’t. Dance the Night Away, Back in Black – these should have a punch.

I am surprised by the selections though. There are a few obvious ones, but many are unique.

I think I agree with you on almost every point! 

Similarly, back in the day used to say “guys either played for women or other guitar players”. Which of course separated those who could really play from the posers, since only the other guitar players would notice what and how you played.
I see maybe some radio airplay with Whole Lotta Love and Photograph but on the whole it’s really awful. He took some real classic rockers and turned them into pop songs with au courant singers, added some congas, and soloed overtop of them.
I found the production seriously lacking the classic rock hooks and riffs because they were watered down, subdued and muffled. It’s quite apparent that the vocals were mailed-in or recorded completely seperately from the rest of the tracks creating a very disjointed sound.
I don’t see much wrong with the choices for vocals, except maybe for Back in Black. I think maybe a heavier version with Kid Rock rapping might have come off alot better.
As a Van Halen fan, Dance the Night Away, is particularly terrible, although it’s not one of my favs anyway.
I had always hoped EVH might one day follow Santana’s lead of featuring different guest singers, as a creative release and maybe a solution to their lead singers. Now, maybe not!

What is *Riders On The Storm * doing on the album? Robbie’s work on the original is quite tasty, but it doesn’t make the song a “guitar classic”.

Well, darn. I was looking forward to this being released because it sounded like a good concept when I read about it a few months ago.

I wish someone had said “Hey Carlos, why don’t we try something new… how about no Wah-Wah pedal on this one?”

OK, I’ve listened to all of the snippets on Amazon. It sounds to me like an album made by a cover band with a lot of money for studio time. Way too much production; it’s just not rock music anymore. There will probably be some hit singles and Grammy nominations for this, but to me it’s dreck.

As I said in the OP, I am glad the Carlos got one more trip around the bases when he hit a home run with Supernatural*. But I wish someone had said “Hey, Carlos - you got commercial lightning in a bottle that time around; enjoy it for your retirement, but now record what *you *want to play and don’t try to repeat that level of success…”

Jeff Beck just came out with an album where he did guitar-based versions of opera arias fercrissake - I can tell you that he didn’t do it for its commercial cross-over appeal ;); Jeff Beck plays what he wants to play. And, my god, he did an amazing job and his album did really well on the charts for an indulgent guitar album. Best of both worlds - artists stretches instrumental boundaries and see enough success to build on his legacy and earn good money.

*my one pissy thing to say about Carlos, which I have said on the Dope before, is that his basic style is a 100% copy of the founder of the original Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green - who also happened to write Black Magic Woman and if he hadn’t become an acid casualty at the end of the 60’s would’ve kept Santana in the shadows. I find the name of Santana’s huge album Supernatural a bit ironic because that is the name of Peter Green’s most iconic song from his time following Clapton in the Bluesbreakers (which he left to form FMac). Here’s a recordingof it - sound like Carlos listened to it much?

WordMan, I totally agree with your sentiments in the previous post. Santana got himself a huge payday and time in the sun with Supernatural, and I was happy about that even if I had no desire to buy it or listen to it.

The only time he has seemed original to me in any way was when he first appeared on the national scene, and Latin rhythms were new to me and a whole lot of other Americans. But since I was a Fleetwood Mac fan before Santana came along, when Abraxas came out it hit me that Carlos was trying to channel Peter Green. If you haven’t listened lately, go back and check out Fleetwood Mac’s studio version of Black Magic Woman. If you have Santana’s solo memorized to the extent that it’s hummable, you’ll hear that there are lots of copped licks in Carlos’s solo.

To me, aside from the amazing examples provided by Jeff Beck over his whole career, there are two shining examples of how a guitar player should do a cover: Crossroads by Cream and All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix. Heck, I would even throw in Little Wing by Derek and the Dominoes. I don’t like it much, but at least it is vastly different from the original.