"The Blues" (Cleopatra; 2020)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Okay. I get it. I really do. I'm a William Shatner fan and I understand that his albums aren't so much a show of musical talent as they are pieces of performance art. A blending of Shatner's unique acting ability and screen persona with music thatóby any other measureóis impressive in its performance and pedicure.

But I gotta be honest: "The Blues" is a sometimes a hard pill for me to swallow.

At first, it sounded like an exciting project. A blues album? Featuring an exhaustive list of high-octane guests including Brad Paisley, Kirk Fletcher, Sonny Landreth, Ritchie Blackmore, Ronnie Earl, Tyler Bryant, Pat Travers, James Burton, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Arthur Adams, Harvey Mandel, Canned Het, Steve Cropper and Albert Lee, how could it go wrong?

"The Blues" starts out with Shatner and Brad Paisley dishing out "Sweet Home Chicago." The music is great (as it is on every track here) and Shatner's vocals are just what you'd expect. Spoken word with occasional peals of ... I don't know, yelling? It certainly isn't singing. But this is Shatner and "Sweet Home Chicago" is pretty much what you expected.

 But then track 2 comes along: "I Can't Quit Ya, Baby." And things get a little dicey. Again, the music is great but Shatner's vocals here can only be described with one word: Caterwauling. Now, I get it. "I Can't Quit You," is supposed to be a painful song but I'm not sure it's supposed to be this painful. Shatner's wailing moans drive you away from this one.

Track 3 gets back on Shatner track, with straight-forward spoken word vocals and a great guitar sound from Sonny Landreth. And when the album stays on that what-you-expect-from-Shatner track, "The Blues" is quite tolerable, enjoyable even, for those who have enjoyed Shatner's previous releases. Thankfully, that is most often the case. But on some tracks, especially the afore-mentioned "I Can't Quit You, Baby" and "Smokestack Lightnin'" (during which Shatner faux-sobs all the way through the songs), it gets to be a little much.

The bottom line, however, is that "The Blues" is exactly the blues album you'd expect from William Shatner. It's got incredible musical talent involved. It features Shatner's unique vocal stylings. And occasionally it goes so far overboard you're not sure what you're listening to.

For more information, check out http://www.williamshatner.com.


"Ponder the Mystery" (Cleopatra; 2013)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

Golden Throat William Shatner returns, this time with a progressive rock album, but the results are mixed at best.

"Ponder the Mystery" features an astounding list of guest stars, including legends such as Steve Vai, Al Di Meola, Mick Jones, Simon House and Nik Turner, Edgar Froese, Rick Wakeman, The Doors' Robby Krieger and Vince Gill (Vince Gill?! Yes, Vince Gill). The music is that spacey progressive rock that you'd expect from bands like Yes, Tangerine Dream and Hawkwind and it's not bad but it's not particularly engrossing either. However, with a collection of musicians like this, there's bound to be highlights and, of course, there are. The vocals are shared by producer Billy Sherwood (singing) and Shatner (spoken word).

The problem with "Ponder the Mystery" is that, unlike "Has Been" or even the previous "Major Tom," it hearkens back to the days of the classic Rhino "Golden Throat" series. It's hard to take it seriously because of all its seriousness. The lyrics, by Shatner, are all about life, love and death and it seems like sometimes they seem to be trying so hard to be deep and meaningful that they become self-parodies instead. Shatner's spoken word emoting makes some of the lyrics work and others not so much. And Sherwood's high-pitched vocals sometimes catch you off guard in the middle of it all with a rather shocking nudge.

A bold attempt by Mr. Shatner and crew, but I'm looking forward to the next Shatner/Ben Folds production, if it ever comes to be.

For more information, check out http://www.williamshatner.com.

"Has Been" (Shout Factory; 2004)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

If you're like most of us, you probably know two things for certain about William Shatner: 1) He played Captain Kirk on the classic television series Star Trek (and the subsequent films) and 2) His vocal stylings are the stuff of legend ... and not good legend, but rather exactly the opposite (check out the Rhino CD release, "Golden Throats," for example). 

But "Has Been," Shatner's latest CD, will teach you a few more things about the Emmy Award-winning actor. First and foremost, he's a pretty good lyricist and/or poet. Two, he's got some great friends in the music business.

Produced and arranged by Ben Folds, "Has Been" is a collection of surprisingly intimate and insightful "songs" that play a little like Tuesday night at the Coffee House. The music is tight and poppy while Shatner's slightly more than spoken word delivery (it's far from singing) is dramatic and poignant without ever crossing over into camp territory. 

Take for example, "Real," the final track. Here, Shatner talks about being a savior of worlds on television and movie screens, but being nothing more than human in reality. Or "That's Me Trying," in which Shatner speaks to his daughter, talking about time lost and relationships to be re-kindled. The stark, strictly spoken word openness of "What Have You Done," in which Shatner explores the death of his wife, is stunning in its honesty and candidness.

As you may have deduced from its title, however, "Has Been" isn't only a collection of dark, provocative introspections. The title track is a funny and biting attack on those who consider Shatner a laughing stock (a laughing stock with an Emmy Award and a enormous stack of cash, by the way). "I Can't Get Behind That" is a sort of screaming match between Shatner and guest Henry Rollins about the pet peeves that bother them most in life. You can't help but laugh out loud when Shatner says, "I can't get behind so-called singers that can't carry a tune, get paid for talking. How easy is that?" Then there's a pause before Shatner continues, "Well, maybe I could get behind that." A cover of Pulp's "Common People" starts the whole thing off, and comes closest to Shatner's earlier folly but, in the end, still manages to work just fine.

In addition to Folds and Rollins, also joining Shatner on "Has Been" are Jon Auer, Adrian Belew, Matt Chamberlain, Joe Jackson, Lemon Jelly, Aimee Mann, Brad Paisley, Henry Rollins and Sebastian Steinberg.

"Has Been" is one of the year's best surprises. Rough Edge readers may not find anything to bang their head to here, but if you're in the mood for something that will make you use your head - and perhaps give you a couple of laughs along the way, you'll be hard pressed to find anything like this.

For more information, check out http://www.williamshatner.com.

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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