Shat­ner ex­plores strange new world of prog

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Randy Lewis

LOS AN­GE­LES — For more than half of his life, ac­tor Wil­liam Shat­ner has been on a myth­i­cal mis­sion “to boldly go where no man has gone be­fore.” Though he no longer com­mands the Star­ship En­ter­prise, the 82-year-old poet and TV pitch­man is still vis­it­ing bizarre worlds. His most re­cent? That odd­ball realm of prog rock.

His con­cept al­bum, Pon­der the Mys­tery, finds the man for­merly known as Capt. James T. Kirk sup­ported by a new crew that wields mu­si­cal in­stru­ments rather than phasers. They in­clude for­mer mem­bers of the band Yes — Tony Kaye, Billy Sher­wood and Rick Wake­man.

Shat­ner’s rea­son for the new jour­ney is quite sim­ple: He wanted to find a fresh fo­rum in which to show­case his poetry.

Ap­par­ently, oth­ers be­yond Yes thought it was a good idea, too. The record in­cludes coun­try gui­tar ace Vince Gill, rocker Mick Jones of For­eigner and jazz fu­sion key­boardist Ge­orge Duke.

“The spo­ken word, I’ve al­ways felt, is mu­sic,” said Shat­ner, his speech punc­tu­ated with the same dra­mat­i­cally rhyth­mic pauses that have made him in­stantly rec­og­niz­able, re­gard­less of the role. Capt. Kirk, po­lice Sgt. T.J. Hooker, lawyer Denny Crane on Bos­ton Le­gal and the cel­e­brated Price­line.com pitch­man all share that same halt­ing ca­dence with Shat­ner the Poet.

Shat­ner has recorded be­fore, some­times just for the fun of it, as on his 1968 camp clas­sic al­bum Trans­former Man, and some­times with a more se­ri­ous mu­si­cal agenda, as with his 2004 col­lab­o­ra­tion with mu­si­cian-com­poser Ben Folds for their al­bum Has Been.

He’s even had fun “record­ing cover songs where the lyric wasn’t ap­pro­pri­ate, like when I did (Color Me Badd’s 1991 pop-R&B hit) I Wanna Sex You Up on the (MTV) Video Mu­sic Awards. All I did was re­cite the lyrics,” he said.

“But that’s the am­bi­tion. I know I can’t sus­tain the note to ac­tu­ally sing, but I have mu­sic in my soul and I’m at­tempt­ing to bring it out within the lan­guage, and along with the mu­sic.”

Pon­der the Mys­tery, re­leased Tues­day, is a con­cept al­bum re­volv­ing around, as Shat­ner de­scribes it, “a guy in de­spair who is liv­ing on a beach, and it takes him through the last hour of the day at sun­set through twi­light into dark­ness, and the sounds of the night in which he re­gains his fer­vour, his love of life, based on the beauty of what he’s see­ing around him.”

Un­like Has Been, for which Shat­ner and Folds worked to­gether as a song­writ­ing team, Shat­ner wrote all the lyrics for the piece, then handed them off to Sher­wood, who com­posed the mu­sic.

In lin­ing up the guest artists to flesh out the per­for­mance, Sher­wood worked closely with Cleopa­tra Records chief Brian Perera, who in­vited Shat­ner to cre­ate a fol­lowup to Seek­ing Ma­jor Tom, the la­bel’s 2011 al­bum in which he re­cited lyrics to outer space-themed rock songs.

“We didn’t want to put out another Wil­liam Shat­ner record just for the sake of putting out a Wil­liam Shat­ner record,” Perera said in a sep­a­rate in­ter­view. “But he’s such a won­der­ful artist and cre­ative per­son to work with, we wanted to fig­ure out what we could do next.

For Shat­ner, com­ing up with lyrics in­tended for songs is a dif­fer­ent process than writ­ing poetry.

“I sort of lurched into a method of writ­ing ev­ery­thing that comes into my head, just spew­ing it out,” he said of his old writ­ing method. “Then along the way, I would dis­cover a phrase, an at­ti­tude or a word that res­onates, that cap­tures what it is I think I’m writ­ing about. I use that word, that phrase, that line to be­come the en­tity of the song.”

The story on Shat­ner’s new al­bum be­gins with the cen­tral char­ac­ter in some­thing of an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis as he ex­am­ines the fab­ric of his life for some mean­ing. It’s punc­tu­ated by Shat­ner’s dark, heav­ily dra­matic and angsty voice.

By the end of the song cy­cle, how­ever, the tone be­comes con­sid­er­ably lighter, even joy­ful.

“I keep say­ing to peo­ple, ‘I hope it’s as good as I say it is.’ I need the au­di­ence to tell me that. It’s one thing to think you’re good, but the pub­lic tells you whether you’re any good,” he said.

“It’s a whole new ven­ture,” he added, sound­ing like a cer­tain star­ship com­man­der once again on the prowl for new life and new civ­i­liza­tions. “I have no idea what to ex­pect.”

BRUNO SCH­LUM­BERGER / THE OTTAWA CIT­I­ZEN FILES

Shat­ner pre­tends to be a mu­si­cian at the 2012 Juno Awards in Ottawa.

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