During this awful time of uncertainty and lockdown, we need something to lift our spirits either hilariously or musically. Somebody who was always reliable in a crisis was Captain James T Kirk from Star Trek, Yes T J Hooker himself Canadian octogenarian, actor, author, producer, director, and screenwriter William Shatner. Mr Shatner has managed to array some of the finest blues guitarists and hall of famers to lend their skills to allow him to deliver a set of Blues standards on the world. He is no stranger to music having released his first album “The Transformed Man” in 1968 and a his last a Christmas album, last year called “Shatner Claus – The Christmas Album” featuring Iggy Pop, Todd Rundgren, Billy Gibbons, Ian Anderson, Rick Wakeman, Henry Rollins and Judy Collins amongst others.
The album has fourteen tracks and the first offered up is the Blues standard `Sweet Home Chicago` with country music singer songwriter Brad Paisley helping out. Mr S doesn`t quite sing but shout the lines of this song, made famous in the Blues Brothers film. At times it has a slight country tinge. American electric blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter Kirk Fletcher adds his licks to the Led Zeppelin classic `I Can`t Quit You, Baby`. The singer croons come talks through the lyrics with the addition of an occasional tinkling piano. The guys made it feel like you were in a sleazy late-night bar.
Clide Vernon “Sonny” Landreth, known as a slide guitar player and musician from southwest Louisiana adds a touch of magic to one of Eric Clapton and Cream`s best known and popular songs `Sunshine Of Your Love` William`s dulcet tones are shared in a spoken word form as if his was sharing a soliloquy from Shakespeare, wonderful stuff. One of the standout tracks from this album is a rendition of `The Thrill Is Gone` a major hit for BB King. This time we have Rainbow and Deep Purple axeman Richie Blackmore, and he delivers a masterclass in the art of the understated guitar riff. Blackmore’s wife and long-time collaborator in Blackmore’s Night, Candice Night, contributes background vocals as Shatner conveys almost a sadness that befits the lyrics.
The Blues standard `Mannish Boy` gets a fittingly growling performance on this Muddy Waters classic filled out with American blues guitarist Ronnie Earl providing the required dynamics. Up and coming Nashville guitar hero Tyler Bryant adds some telling riffs to `Born Under A Bad Sign` the Albert King timeless blues staple while Mr S relates the topical astrology references as if in a conversation or at times shouting them out.
Canadian rock guitarist, keyboardist and singer Pat Travers, a man who is described as a rock god by Paul Gilbert adds some splashes to the Jalacy “Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins 1956 classic `Spell On You` while we get an appropriately melodramatic and theatrical lyrical rendition from Shatner. Fellow octogenarian James Burton a guitar player who has played with everyone from Elvis Presley To Emmylou Harris adds his delightfully unassuming touch to `Crossroads. ` a laid-back version of the Robert Johnson classic immortalised by Eric Clapton.
The American guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, known for his stints in the rock bands Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers during the 1970s and Spirit in the 1980s adds his deft touches to `Smokestack Lightnin`. A song recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1956 and Mr S certainly adds his own odd howling and crying at times throughout. Albert King and Gary Moore have both covered `As The Years Go Passing By.` and Shatner offers up his own spoken word version with American blues guitarist Arthur Adams taking up the slack with some wonderfully restrained riffs, Adams is known for his collaborations with many of blues’ elite.
The remaining members of Canned Heat join with their former guitarist Harvey Mandel on
`Let’s Work Together` a hit for them in 1970. The vocal delivery this time is like an orator at a public rally. We have Albert Lee, a guitarist known for his fingerstyle and hybrid picking technique and possibly the only Englishman on this release supply his craft on The Dead South`s `In Hell I’ll Be In Good Good Company` A tale about a man who murders his cheating wife and is stoked to go to hell with her, It`s a finely laid back version with some lovely shuffling drum beats and a quaint spoken word conveyance.
The rhythm and blues standard `Route 66` made famous by Chuck Berry is given a makeover aided by the legendary founding member of Booker T. & the M.G.’s., guitarist Steve Cropper sometimes known as “The Colonel.” An interesting take which almost sounded like Bobby Pickett`s Monster Mash at times. The album closes with `Secrets And Sins` and this time there`s no guest musicians just Mr Shatner eulogising over a quietly shared bluesy background.
This is an album that is going to completely divide opinion. Some are gonna love the musicianship but hate William Shatner`s vocal delivery, spoken word or other. It`s a real marmite one. I have to say I loved it. as I didn`t try and analyse it but just sat back and enjoyed the quality musicianship and Shatner`s almost joy in offering up these varied blues standards.
Let the debate begin.
Rating 9 /10