William Shatner approaches his recording career from the perspective of an actor: he's not driven to say something but give him a good role and he'll show up at your studio. Cleopatra Records and producer/songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist/general mastermind Billy Sherwood -- perhaps best-known as a member of a latter-day '90s incarnation of Yes -- did come up with a good role for Shatner on 2013's Ponder the Mystery. They had him, well, ponder the mystery of life to the sound of old-fashioned prog rock, a canny move that acknowledged the advancing age of the former Captain Kirk along with his deep associations with sci-fi. Ponder the Mystery seizes upon this vein of Shatnerdom, nearly burying his inherent hamminess beneath the glistening gloss of analog synthesizers and some serious shredding by the likes of Steve Vai, Mick Jones, Vince Gill, Edgar Froese, and Zoot Horn Rollo. While Has Been, Shatner's 2004 collaboration with Ben Folds, played off the unintentional camp of the Transformed Man, Ponder the Mystery acknowledges the silliness but never celebrates it; there's a sincerity here -- a sincerity that was largely missing from Seeking Major Tom, his 2011 collection of covers for Cleopatra -- that brings this album closer to the Transformed Man, where it never was clear what was real and what was fake. It adds mystery to a record that's all about enigmas, and, when combined with Sherwood's clever aural interpretation of Roger Dean's album art, it makes for a record that's more enjoyable than it has any right to be.
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Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine