CLEOPATRA RECORDS 2nd October 2020
Henry Rollins totally changed my mind on William Shatner. After the over-acting in Star Trek, the TV series – TJ Hooker and an ill-advised comic book writing venture, putting out albums seemed an act of ego. How uncharitable of me.
After hearing Rollins describe recording with him and Adrian Belew, followed by a dinner of Shatner’s favourite scallops and his generosity of spirit, I listened again and realised this is an elderly man having a lot of fun. Full of enthusiasms, the idea of messing about with classic songs, working with great musicians now seems to be an overflowing of boyish excitement. That’s not to say some of the versions aren’t ill-advised but, on repeated listens, I hear someone having fun. Now aged 89, why not?
Shatner’s approach, like other thespian over-actors such as Leonard Nimoy or Richard Harris, leans more on declaiming than singing, and that works well for the Blues. The Blues! sees Shatner do his stuff on fourteen classics and work alongside Canned Heat, Richie Blackmore, Albert Lee, Pat Travers and others. Each excited to work with Captain Kirk and vice versa. For every over-cooked ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’, there is a fun ‘Sweet Home Chicago’, a baking ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ or a silly ‘I’m A Man’. James Williamson from The Stooges aids and abets a very actor-ish ‘Crossroads’ while elsewhere ‘Let’s Work Together’ sounds like Canned Heat backing a middle manager trying to inspire his sales team.
‘The Thrill Is Gone’, a collaboration with Richie Blackmore sees Shatner’s dramatic urge work well in conveying low-key regret while a blistering sweet-black-coffee guitar provides illustration. Then again, ‘As The Years Go By’ becomes a heart-tugging finale scene from a musical play and the finale, ‘Secrets And Sins’ seems to have been chosen as a statement look back at a life full of larger than life enthusiasms, this just being one more. Woven through it is a love for the form and the songs, if not any degree of mastery of it. This is William Shatner doing his Blues, his way, with a stellar set of collaborators.
The album is way more forgiving of repeat listens than his Christmas album and the incidents of chewing the scenery are toned down, whilst still leaving the rather wonderful picture of Captain James T Kirk of the Starship Enterprise delivering a steaming parcel of theatrical Blues along with some cooking musicianship. Go boldly and listen.