Who’d have guessed more than 50 years ago when actor William Shatner brought Capt. James T. Kirk so vividly to life and helped turn “Star Trek” into a cultural touchstone that the show’s famous “final frontier” might turn out to be … Christmas music?
We kid you not: The veteran actor, 87, has just released an album of yuletide classics: “Shatner Claus – The Christmas Album,” for which he’s joined by a galaxy of pop, rock, country and other stars of contemporary music. Proto-punk rocker Iggy Pop, folk-pop queen Judy Collins, country singer-songwriter-guitarist Brad Paisley, Jethro Tull flutist Ian Anderson, prog-rock keyboard wiz Rick Wakeman and ZZ Top guitar hero Billy Gibbons are among the baker’s dozen guest collaborators.
“Every song – good or bad – has my interpretation with the desire to bend it a little or fulfill more fully its original desire,” Shatner said.
That’s his way of pointing out that, rather than simply stepping into a studio and reciting lyrics over prepared backing tracks to seasonal favorites such as “Jingle Bells,” “Feliz Navidad,” “White Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland,” Shatner worked closely with album producers Adam Hamilton and Jurgen Engler in applying his vision of how each number ought to play out.
“Jingle Bells,” for instance, which starts the album at a breakneck pace as Shatner almost hyperventilates as he relays the song’s lyric.
“How do you do ‘Jingle Bells’ differently?” he said. “I thought, ‘What happens if the horses are running off?’ There are two guys on the sled and the horses are running off. I’ve been on runoff horses, and you don’t stop them – you just guide them. So for my version, the horses take off. When he listened back initially, I said ‘That’s not quite right. Let’s put [the sound of] some hoof beats on it.”
The result is in keeping with his previous cult-classic recordings featuring his often hyper-dramatic style of spoken-word recitation. Those date to his 1968 debut album, “Transformed Man,” which included his camp-classic renditions of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” In recent years he’s also recorded collaborations with indie rock singer-songwriter Ben Folds (“Has Been” in 2004) and the prog-rock effort “Ponder the Mystery” in 2013.