Carlos Santana - Guitar Heaven:
The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time

Over the years the music of Carlos Santana has always been the most interesting when the man himself faced a challenge. Early on it was trying to match teenage guitar prodigy Neal Schon and then it was expanding his chops to be able to play with jazz greats like John McLaughlin and Wayne Shorter. Mid-term, it was putting together bands with such great musicians that he had to blaze just to keep up. Even late in his career he rose to the occasion and revived his career to former glories. Now he has set himself a hefty present day challenge.

To put this challenge in prospective, Santana has not played a truly original guitar solo for at least two decades and his super popular duet albums have become tired and trite and now he’s trying to cover a whole set of guitar classics? That raises expectations and if he adds nothing to the modern guitar vocabulary, it will be a wasted effort.

Following the familiar format of guest vocalists for every song has led to another uneven effort and the song selection doesn’t always help either, why cover a song like Under The Bridge when you don’t add anything new to it, but those limitations fall away when Carlos gets to really picking. He hasn’t sounded this fresh in a long time. He has stepped outside the comfort zone and it’s great to hear.

The guitar fireworks start out straight away with a fine version of Whole Lotta Love. Fresh slabs of roast guitar complimented by one of rock’s great vocalists (Chris Cornell) holding nothing back. The solo highlights some fresh tones in the guitarist's bag and it doesn’t stop there. It’s a little predictable for a track or two until it strikes home with Back In Black. Who would have thought that a rap remake of that classic would give Carlos the launching pad it does. His wicked wah-wah seethes with force and an almost angry relish, the crazy bent notes are a joy to hear. With few exceptions his playing here sounds revitalized and contemporary.

Tackling songs with this much expectation attached to them was a bit of a risk but Santana has delivered the goods and this is easily the best guitar album he has released in a lot of years. Let’s hope with the next album he takes on material that will bring out the guitar demon inside once again.
Rob Hudson

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