For a band who exploded on to the late-60/early-70s music scene with an invigorating rock/Latino/Afro musical hybrid that was fresh, new and original, it’s a little ironic that (in Britain, at least) Santana are probably best known for a couple of covers: Fleetwood Mac’s Black Magic Woman and The Zombies’ She’s Not There.
As covers go, they’re unimaginative but okay. But the best covers are arguably those that twist, turn and reshape the original into something new and individual: Cream’s coruscating take on Robert Johnson’s Crossroads, Joe Cocker’s radical reworking of The Beatles’ With A Little Help From My Friends, Hendrix’s burnished gilding of Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower. That kind of approach is even more demanded if you’re going to tackle a true classic.
Apparently it took Sony executive Clive Davis two years to persuade guitarist/bandleader Carlos Santana to agree to record this album of covers of 24-carat gold classics, some of which are centrepieces in rock’s Crown Jewels. Carlos really should have stuck by his reservations. Guitar Heaven… is, overall, as jarringly annoying an example of reverse alchemy as you will find from anyone of Santana’s stature.
There’s certainly nothing heavenly among the 12 tracks here, each featuring a different (unenviable) guest vocalist. Chris Cornell does a good job of opening his lungs on an otherwise uninspired Whole Lotta Love that slavishly apes the dynamic and retains even some of the minutiae of the original. Gavin Rossdale and Joe Cocker are the squarest pegs in the roundest holes on feeble versions of T. Rex’s Get It On and Hendrix’s Little Wing respectively. The semi-rap, mash-up like demolition of AC/DC’s Back In Black is simply a stinker.
Most annoying of all is that acclaimed Doors ‘Guitar Classic’ Riders On The Storm, strangled by one of Carlos’s fret-melting, glaringly inappropriate guitar solos – as are other songs here – when what’s needed is a solid grasp of the essence of the originals and at least a modicum of restraint. Workmanlike covers of Sunshine Of Your Love, Smoke On The Water and others display a woeful lack of imagination.
An ill-advised idea executed with a shocking lack of invention or flair, for serious rock fans Guitar Heaven is likely to sound like a torturous sightseeing tour through some sort of Rock Hell. In a word: pointless.