Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Santana - Supernatural And Beyond (1999-2019)



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The albums covered here are:-

Supernatural (1999)
Shaman (2002)
All That I Am (2005)
Shape Shifter (2012)
Corazón (2014)
Santana IV (2016)
and Africa Speaks (2019)

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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SUPERNATURAL (1999)

1. (De La) Yaleo
2. Love of My Life
3. Put Your Lights On
4. Africa Bamba
5. Smooth
6. Do You Like The Way
7. Maria Maria
8. Migra
9. Corazón Espinado
10. Wishing It Was
11. El Farol
12. Primavera
13. The Calling
14. Day Of Celebration        

This is the album that, for some reason, launched the by now respected, grizzled, headbanded veteran Carlos Santana back into the commercial stratosphere. People who had no Santana albums suddenly started buying this in their millions, enticed by the intoxicating Latin rhythms, guest appearances, contemporary music fusion and Santana's instantly recognisable, iconic guitar sound. Due to all the guests contributions and the length of the album (an hour an a quarter, with all tracks over four minutes in length, at least) the album lacks a little cohesiveness and direction. It is more a selection of excellent Santana collaborations with other artists, as opposed to a unified Santana album, if you get my point. That doesn't mean it is not good. It is good. Very good in places. The sound quality is excellent and the musicianship, as you might imagine, is exemplary. It got all sorts of Grammy awards and the like, not that I ever pay much attention to those.

The album does, for me, have a bit of a feel of a an album of various songs that have Carlos Santana guesting on them as opposed to the other way round.

              
(De La) Yaleo is a lively Latin groove, full of rhythm, bass, funky organ and, of course Carlos Santana's trademark guitar. Some excellent piano on it too. Love Of My Life is a laid-back, bassy, contemporary "r'n'b" number that ends with some delicious Santana guitar and percussion interplay. Some lovely salsa rhythms underpin it too. Put Your Lights On is a bluesy r'n'b grinder with a gruff vocal and some seriously heavy guitar riffs. Africa Bamba features some delicious Spanish guitar in its intro and a catchy Spanish vocal, despite its opening line about dancing with a Portuguese girl.

Smooth was a hit single (I think, or of not it was certainly played on the radio a lot). It is a muscular but melodic, insistent and pumping Latin soul groove. Do You Like The Way is a hip/hop thumper with Lauryn Hill and CeeLo Green on vocals. Green's vocals are excellent. It has moved into being a soul song by now, after Hill's hip/hop opening. The "shoo-be-doo-ba-ba" vocal bit brings to mind The Style Council'Long Hot Summer.

Maria Maria was the album's other big hit with Santana memorably being name checked in the lyrics before his guitar parts. It is full of contemporary hip/hop beats. Its huge bass part, though, is way too pounding, slightly distorting the sound of the song (and I love bass). The Spanish guitar parts are superb, however, as are the West African-influenced vocals. Migra is great, with a magnificent rolling drum sound, handclaps and a captivating, tribal-style rhythm. Santana's guitar swirls and soars all over the place and some Mexican-sounding brass enhances it even more. It is an underrated number on the album.

Corazon Espinado is a classic slice of salsa-influenced rock with more authentic Spanish lyrics. Wishing It Was is a slow burning dance-ish groover, a bit Prince-like. El Farol is a beautiful guitar-led instrumental. Primavera is a sumptuous laid-back, soulful Latin number with the by now obligatory Spanish vocals. The Calling is (nominally) the final track, and features Eric Clapton trading guitar licks over a solid hip-hop-ish beat and a gospelly vocal. After a ten-second break, at eight minutes, the "hidden" track, Day Of Celebration, comes in. It is a grinding, industrial funky type of number with English lyrics, completely different from anything else on the album.

The album is a long listen, one that you can dip into, to be honest, but the quality is there throughout. It certainly had something about it. Its mass appeal would seem to back that up.

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SHAMAN (2002)

1. Adouma
2. Nothing At All
3. The Game Of Love
4. You Are My Kind
5. Amore (Sexo)
6. Foo Foo
7. Victory Is Won
8. America
9. Sideways
10. Why Don't You And I
11. Feels Like Fire
12. Let Me Love You Tonight
13. Aye Aye Aye
14. Hoy Es Adios
15. One Of These Days
16. Novus              

Basically this is a remake of 1999's multi-million-selling Supernatural. Producer Clive Davis repeats the same formula - plenty of contemporary R'n'B/hip hop/smooth soul influences and the seemingly ubiquitous Rob Thomas making several contributions once more. in fact, even more so than Supernatural, it seems to be an album with scattered guest appearances by Carlos Santana. The album's songs seem to be created to meet the needs of the singer as opposed to fitting Carlos in. Like on Supernatural, Santana's role seems to be to float around guitar lines under the songs' more dominant vocals. Why not, I guess, seeming as the previous album was such a success. What you have to realise is that for a huge amount of people, these two albums are what Santana is. They know little or nothing of those ground-breaking late sixties/early seventies albums, the transcendental meditative mid-seventies material or the eighties rock/pop. Santana, for them, is Smooth and Maria Maria.

There is some excellent, almost perfect contemporary pop on here, but should it be considered a Santana album? I guess so, but only to an extent. All that debate apart, I really quite like it, indeed preferring it to Supernatural, particularly in its slightly less booming, more balanced, nuanced sound quality. I like the Earth, Wind & Fire-influenced cover too. I would say, though, that the album seems to go on forever - sixteen tracks with only on slightly under four minutes, clocking in at a whopping seventy-six minutes. Personally, thirty-forty minutes' of dipping in to it is preferable.

  
           
Adouma is a thumping, rhythmic West African-influenced, invigorating opener. Nothing At All is a succulent, slow Latin groove with distinct bassy contemporary R'n'B influences in both its sound and the tone of the vocal. The Game Of Love, featuring Michelle Branch on vocals is a sweet, soulful and irresistibly singalong number that, unsurprisingly, gained loads of radio play. It was the album's perfect hit single. Carlos Santana contributes a brief but great guitar solo. You Are My Kind is introduced by some excellent Carlos guitar and has a sumptuous, relaxing, hot summer's day soul feel to it. Very light and poppy. Amore (Sexo) has a tasty vocal from the distinctive Macy Gray and some intoxicating Latin brass and rhythm.

Foo Foo sees some copper-bottomed Santana Latin grooves arrive for the first full-on time. Lots of "arriba" type vocals and melodic, deliciously catchy horns. Some sublime bass lines too. Victory Is Won is certainly a good vehicle for some powerful Santana guitar. It is a heavy, rock instrumental with some of those trademark Santana guitar lines. America also has some serious, heavy, chunky riffs and some hip/hop-style vocal interjections between the verses. It is not as bad as I have read it described in some reviews. Sideways is a laid-back bluesy number and Why Don't You And I is a riffy, pop/rock workout.

Feels Like Fire is a pleasant soul/rock female vocal ballad featuring Dido on vocals. Let Me Love You Tonight is a delicious slow number. Aye Aye Aye has a welcome return to some more typical Latin rhythms after several easy on the ear ballads. It features some appetising Spanish guitar breaks, killer percussion and frantic Spanish repeated lyrics on the refrain. The Spanish vibe continues on the sublime Hoy Es Adios which is full of Mexican brass lines. One Of These Days is quite funky in places and again just has that laid-back groove to it, augmented by some excellent Santana guitar. Novus ends the album in dignified, stately fashion with opera singer Placido Domingo on vocals. The Latin percussion, however, seems a little incongruous.

As I said earlier, this is an album to dip in and out of, and enjoy, for me, as opposed to listening to it in one full sitting.

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ALL THAT I AM (2005)

1. Hermes
2. El Fuego
3. I'm Feeling You
4. My Man
5. Just Feel Better
6. I Am Somebody
7. Con Santana
8. Twisted
9. Trinity
10. Cry Baby Cry
11. Brown Skin Girl
12. I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love
13. Da Tu Amor       

This is the third in the series of albums in which Carlos Santana seemed to be "guesting" on his own offering, such were the number of all the other artists present. Like the hugely successful Supernatural and Shaman, Santana sometimes seems to be playing a bit part to the guests fronting up the songs. As before, he functions basically as a supporting artist to a parade of guests singing highly polished rhythmic pop songs. It is all very professionally done, with immaculate sound, but Santana comes and goes on the album, however good he is - and, of course he is - but what this is, for me, like the others, is a good, summery rhythmic pop album, not really a Santana album. A bit like those interminable series of Rod Stewart and Bob Dylan albums of crooners, though, it is another trip down the same road. There are only so many times you can mine the same seam. Even the cover is lazily unimaginative.

There is an argument that many of the numerous Santana albums, particularly those from 1976 onwards, have been similar - Carlos playing some guitar here and there behind a succession of vocalists and musicians and while all are listenable, none of them really get you by the scruff of the neck. They just exist, happily enough. This perhaps just follows in the same fashion.
                           
Hermes is a West African-influenced, lively groove, packed full of rhythm, addictive horns and classic guitar. El Fuego is a Salsa-rhythm powered Latin number, sung in Spanish. I'm Feeling You is a female vocal-led (Michelle Branch), poppy fast r'n'b meets rock number. My Man is a hip/hop-influenced workout that treads a familiar path "boom, boom, Santana's in the room...". It has echoes of Maria, Maria and Smooth from Supernatural, in that respect. Just Feel Better features Steve Tyler from Aerosmith and is suitably "big" in its stadium rock sounds.

I Am Somebody is an energetic, contemporary-sounding workout with some fast-paced rapping (from the seemingly ubiquitous will-i-am) in the middle. It is quirkily catchy in its own way, but as with many of the tracks, not really "Santana", apart from the guitar interjections.

Con Santana is a more typical piece of Latin rhythm - all captivating percussion and Spanish lyrics. Twisted is a pleasant enough, melodic rock number that sounds fine, but doesn't particularly stick in the head. Trinity is an appealing instrumental, featuring some excellent guitar. Cry Baby Cry is a thumping hip/hop-styled number with accompanying vocals and the usual searing, knife-through-butter guitar. Brown Skin Girl is the sort of laid-back, tuneful rock ballad Santana can put out in his sleep. The same applies to  I Don't Wanna To Lose Your LoveDa Tu Amor is a stirring Latin number to close the album on a pleasing note. As I said, it is all perfectly ok, but does it remain in one's consciousness or beg repeated listenings? Probably not.

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SHAPE SHIFTER (2012)

1. Shape Shifter
2. Dom
3. Nomad
4. Metatron
5. Angelica Faith
6. Never The Same Again
7. In The Light Of A New Day
8. Spark Of The Devine
9. Macumba In Budapest
10. Mr. Szabo
11. Eres La Luz
12. Canela
13. Ah, Sweet Dancer    

After Supernatural, Shaman and All That I AmCarlos Santana decided to ditch the duets with guest vocalists/musicians thing that had, although incredibly successful, had seen him being reduced to something of a bit-part player on his own albums. Here he gives his legendary guitar more of a central role. All but one of the thirteen tracks are instrumentals. For the most part, it is a very Latin album, with some rock riffing too, very much in line with the late seventies through to the nineties material, but without the vocals.
                   
Shape Shifter begins with some evocative Native American incantation, before it bursts into rocking life, full of swirling organ, pounding drums and some trademark Santana guitar. It has some heavy riffage in it too. Dom has a smoky keyboard backing and features some sharp guitar soloing. The rock grooves of Nomad are very much in the vein of some of Santana's early seventies material, with some seriously impressive guitar and organ interplay. Metatron is an uplifting, anthemic number with a wonderful refrain and guitar part. Carlos gives himself free reign on here. Good stuff.

Angelica Faith just sort of washes over you, again featuring the sort of guitar we have come to expect. Indeed the next three tracks, the chilled-out Never The Same AgainIn The Light Of A New Day and Spark Of The Devine also do just that. A bit of a change in ambience comes with the grandiose melody of Macumba In Budapest, which merges classical strings and keyboards with some Latin percussion and also some salsa-influenced piano. There is no typical Santana guitar in this track. Mr Szabo continues in this style - Latin percussion, big, rumbling bass, but this time including some delicious Spanish-style guitar. These last two tracks have been most appetising. Eres La Luz features some gorgeous Spanish guitar before we get some thumping drums and, for the first time, some vocals - in Spanish. It is a typical Santana Latin number such as he released a lot in the late seventies/eighties.

Canela has some top notch archetypal Santana guitar before it takes us into some seductive Salsa rhythms. Ah, Sweet Dancer is a slowie to end on, with some guitar/piano/synthesiser interplay on a peaceful, reflective number. The piano is very classically influenced. It is in fact Santana's son, Salvador, on keyboards.

While it is good to hear Santana giving it some virtuosity "wellie" on the guitar again, in comparison with the previous three albums, the album does seem just a little directionless in some ways, but then again, Santana music often was mood music and it serves you well in that respect.

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CORAZÓN (2014)

1. Saideira
2. La Flaca
3. Mal Bicho
4. Oye 2014
5. Iron Lion Zion
6. Una Noche En Napoles
7. Besos De Lejos
8. Margarita
9. Indy
10. Feel It Coming Back
11. Yo Soy La Luz
12. I See Your Face                               

After the instrumental album Shape Shifter in 2012, Santana reunited with producer Clive Davis, who produced the hugely-successful Supernatural and he once again used some guest artists on the album. This time, though, something that could not always be said of Supernatural, Shaman, or All That I Am, this is very much Santana's album. He leads things and sounds really "up for it", so to speak. It is also a Latin album, not only in rhythm, but in its lyrics, which are in Spanish. It is an album of considerable vitality and shows an artist still hungry after all these years. Some have criticised this for being just another Santana album, but, while sort of understanding that point of view, I have always enjoyed this album for the vibrancy I mentioned. The sound quality is great too.

From the first moment, this is a captivating album. Saideira is an impossibly catchy and upbeat number - packed full of rhythm and superb guitar. It is a great, uplifting, summery track. For me, it blows away most of the stuff on Supernatural. La Flaca has a delicious, laid-back bluesy feel. Material like this is as good as anything Santana has put out for several years. Mal Bicho is lively and Latin, but with some gruff ragga-style backing vocals too. Oye 2014 merges the early seventies classic Oye Como Va with a hip-hop vocal and rhythm. It is ok, perfectly listenable, but I prefer the original, to be honest. One cover that does work, though, is that of Bob Marley's Iron Lion Zion. It is punchy, bassy and features a killer guitar solo from Carlos. Marley's son, Ziggy, is on vocals, sounding just like his Dad.

 
Una Noche En Napoles has a delightful female vocal and a shuffling, bossa-nova type beat. Besos De Lejos continues in a similar vein. The guitar intro to Margarita and its melody are sumptuous. A truly lovely track. Indy is a plaintive, contemporary-sounding slow number with an infectious bass line. Feel It Coming Back is a poppy, appealing song with a really catchy chorus. Santana's guitar at the end is stunning. Its Spanish version, Amor Correspondido (included on the "deluxe edition") is even better. It sounds a lot like Destiny's Gate by Tish HinojosaYo Soy La Luz has some excellent Latin brass and a Brazilian samba section. There are some cool experimental, jazzy parts on here. Most enjoyable. I See Your Face is a Borboletta-style piece of ambient instrumental to close the album.

As I mentioned in the main part of the review, this album contains some of Santana's best material for quite a while. Personally, I find it the most energising and vibrant of his post 1999 work.

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SANTANA IV (2016)

1. Yambu
2. Shake It
3. Anywhere You Want To Go
4. Fillmore East
5. Love Makes The World Go Round
6. Freedom In Your Mind
7. Choo Choo
8. All Aboard
9. Sueños
10. Caminado
11. Blues Magic
12. Echizo
13. Leave Me Alone
14. You And I
15. Come As You Are
16. Forgiveness            

This was the long-awaited reunion of (almost) the original Santana line up. Old mates Neal Schon (guitar), Michael Shrieve (drums), Michael Carabello (congas/percussion) and Gregg Rolie (keyboards/vocals). It is great to hear them all back together again and they certainly bring the best out of Carlos Santana. It is good to hear this set-up, as opposed to the trend of lots of guest vocalists/musicians almost putting Carlos in the shade on some of the post 1999 albums.

The album sticks to the classic early (first three albums) Santana sound, merging rock riffs with Latin guitar, Latin percussion and organ-driven funk. There are also Afro-Cuban, salsa and samba influences. As comeback albums go, it is certainly not a bad effort at all. Where it falls down , slightly, for me, is that at seventy-five minutes, and sixteen tracks, it is way too long. Sure, it gives value for money but sometimes, modern albums like this that go on too long. That said, there is not really a duff track on the album, so there you go...
                  
Yambu kicks the album off with some funky wah-wah guitar, before that late sixties/early seventies organ comes in together with some African vocal chanting. It is a deep, sonorous and powerful opener. Shake It features Carlos Santana's searing, fuzzy guitar for the first time over a slow burning, thumping beat. Gregg Rolie's bluesy vocals are excellent - age has made his voice more resonant. This is solid rock stuff as opposed to Latin-dominated rhythm. That always was the way with early Santana - rock with a Latin influence. Some of the nineties/2000s material was far more overtly Latin. Not that that was a bad thing, there were just differences in the various phases of Santana's career. That typical Latin-driven rock beat that so characterised an album like Abraxas is full-on here in the excellent Anywhere You Want To Go. It reminds me of Evil Ways from the band's debut album too.


Fillmore East is a delicious ambient guitar-led instrumental that could have come from 1972's Caravanserai. Both the title and the sound bring back memories of those heady early days and live performances at the Fillmore East. Love Makes The World Go Round  is a swirling, frantic slab of archetypal Santana rock. Freedom In Your Mind is delightfully funky and invigorating in its upbeat soulfulness. Choo Choo is possibly a candidate for a cull of tracks, to be honest, but despite its slightly throwaway lyrics it has an incredibly intoxicating rhythm behind it. Great percussion, drums and guitar. The instrumentation seamlessly merges into the powerful rock groove of All Aboard, an irresistible instrumental.

Time for a change in pace at this half way point in the album. The sumptuous Spanish guitar and easy rhythm of Sueños gives us a luscious Samba Pa Ti moment. Caminado is a track that has echoes of the group's late seventies/eighties material. It is another of the album's slightly less essential numbers. Blues Magic is a fine, slow burning blues, with hints of Chris Rea about it. Echizo sees the Latin groove return for an instrumental that, while upbeat, is possibly another inessential one. It features some great bass/drum/guitar interplay, however. Leave Me Alone is pleasant enough, but unremarkable, while You And I is another instrumental, which, however melodious, possibly does not have to be there.

Come As You Are is an infectious, poppy fusion of English and Spanish vocals. Forgiveness is a dreamy, ambient song with a lengthy instrumental intro. Overall, despite its length, the album never really gets tiresome. It is full of energy and vitality. Yes it is not Abraxas or Santana III but had this been released in the early seventies it would have got good press. No reason, then, for it not to do so now.

  

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AFRICA SPEAKS (2019)

1. Africa Speaks
2. Batonga
3. Oye Este Mi Canto
4. Yo Me Lo Merezco
5. Blue Skies
6. Paraísos Quemados
7. Breaking Down The Door
8. Los Invisibles
9. Luna Hechichera
10. Bembele
11. Candombe Cumbele

This album is not as much of a surprising thing as pre-relesase publicity has made out in the "guess what? Santana's doing an album totally of African-influenced music. Wow!" way. For me, Santana has always been influenced by African music. Obviously, Latin music was always the major driving force, but African rhythms have always been there at some point on pretty much everything Santana has recorded. This album, of course, is full of full-on African drumming, but Santana's guitar is so distinctive that, in many ways, the album sounds very Santana. You would expect it to, I guess, but it does not mine the deep seam of of African music as much as maybe I would have liked. Ironically, as well, the album uses female Spanish vocalist Buika throughout, as opposed to someone from Mali, Nigeria or Congo, for example. Had such vocalists been utilised then the whole Africa theme may well have been more convincing. Buika does sing in a West African style, however. Her background being from Equatorial Guinean parents.

  

Personally, although there are certainly many exciting moments, I find it sounds very much like another Santana album. Yes there are differences, say, to the Supernatural series of collaboration albums, but overall it sounds far more of a Latin album than an African one. Take the track Oye Este Mi Canto as an example of the point I am making. It is sung in Spanish (albeit with a West African tone to the vocal) which instantly gives a Latin flavour and the bass lines and percussion rhythms are decidedly Latin. Just check out the bit around four minutes in, as Carlos's guitar comes in alongside the bass. It is typical Santana - instantly recognisable. The same applies to the frantic percussion-driven groove of Batonga. Buika's vocals are, as I admitted earlier, very West African and also Sufi-influenced in their inflections but they also are somewhat throaty and grate just a little at times. That is being a little unfair, because they have a lot of character but there is a bit of a tinniness to not just the vocals but sometimes to the whole production. Apparently the whole album was recorded very quickly, so maybe that was a factor. A track like Yo Me Lo Merezco exemplifies this, not that I don't like the track, I just feel it could have been given a better production. Just a matter of personal taste I guess. Santana's guitar at the end of this track, though, is superb, but it is rock guitar, nothing African about it. Maybe Santana could have played guitar in the distinctive Congolese soukous style or the South African "township jive" fashion here and there? Just a thought. Or Nigerian Hi-life? He never does, always playing in the same way, great although it is, it doesn't deviate much. Literally, just as I wrote that, though, along comes the Fela Kuti AfroBeat riff of Paraísos Quemados. Excellent! It is not Santana playing that bit though. His guitar interjection is as you would expect.


Blue Skies is far more of a jazzy number. Yes, there are African influences in its Abdullah Ibrahim piano and Salif Keita vocals but it just doesn't immediately scream "Africa" to me. I love the bassy bit near the end, however. Breaking Down The Door is completely Latin, let's be honest. I love it all the same, I have to say. Los Invisibles has a Rhythm Of The Saints drum intro straight out of South America. Bembele is very Brazilian in its sound. There is a link between Brazilian Bahian music and the West Coast of Africa, though.

So, while I do not dislike this album at all, far from it, a) it has a slightly worse production than I would have preferred, and b) I was looking forward to a more obviously "African" album than a trademark Santana one. Mixed feelings on first listen. Obviously more listens are needed for all albums so my mind remains ripe to be changed on this one. (Three listens in, and it is certainly getting into my bloodstream, so stick with it. Despite my observations, I am still enjoying it a lot).

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Santana - The Middle Period (1976-1992)



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The albums covered here are:-

Amigos (1976)
Festival (1977)
Inner Secrets (1978)
Marathon (1979)
Zebop! (1981)
Shangó (1982)
Beyond Appearances (1985)
Freedom (1987)
Spirits Dancing In The Flesh (1990)
and Milagro (1992)

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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AMIGOS (1976)

1. Dance Sister Dance (Baila Mi Hermana)
2. Take Me With You
3. Let Me
4. Gitano
5. Tell Me Are You Tired
6. Europa (Earth's Cry, Heaven's Smile)
7. Let It Shine   

After three album of ambient, sometimes experimental, jazz fusion music in Caravanserai, Welcome and Borboletta, Santana, now with only Carlos Santana and bassist David Brown (it would be his final album) left from the original line-up, reverted to a more poppy, far more Latin-influenced sound that recalled the great days of Santana III. The album is certainly their most instantly accessible since then, but probably not the best. It was definitely a turning point in that it marked a rebirth of Latin sounds in the group's music, which had been somewhat hidden by jazzy, funk sounds on the previous three albums. For many it was a welcome return to the Latin grooves which had attracted them to Santana in the first place.
                                          
The albums seven tracks contain some lengthy workouts, beginning with the toe-tapping Dance Sister Dance (Baila Mi Hermana). Carlos Santana's guitar is well to the fore, over the captivating salsa-style rhythms. It gets a bit ambient for the last two minutes or so, as if they couldn't completely give up that stuff. Take Me With You is a lively, organ-driven, Latin percussion meets prog-rock doodling instrumental. Half way through you get a delicious slowed-down bass and guitar passage. The track then meanders gently to its end, guided there by Santana's trademark guitar.

  

Let Me is a funky, upbeat number with some lively vocals and a groove that brings to mind Tower Of Power in places. The old "side two " begins with Gitano (it means Gypsy in Spanish) which starts with some Mexican acoustic guitar before bursting into a wonderful Latin rhythm, complete with Spanish lyrics. It sounds like something from the salsa clubs of Havana. This sort of overtly Latin material was an attempt to win back old fans and halt the band's commercial slide that the ambient, jazzy stuff had brought, however good it might have been. You wouldn't have got anything like this on Caravanserai, for example. The track doesn't let up from beginning to end and is a breath of warm Latin air.

Tell Me Are You Tired is a beautiful slice of Santana soul, with a sumptuous bass line and excellent vocals from new vocalist Greg Walker. After a minute or so, it kicks into some serious funk/rock before reverting back to the deep, warm soul it began with. Europa (Earth's Cry, Heaven's Smile) reprised that distinctive Samba Pa Ti guitar sound that was so popular and it gained some fresh chart success for the group, at last. It is a wonderful, evocative piece, with Santana's guitar peerless and the guitar/bass/rhythm interplay in the last third of the song is totally sublime. A funky wah-wah guitar introduces the infectious Let It Shine, which also had some success as a single. It has a thumping bass sound, some European-sounding keyboard riffs and a funky vocal. It is a beguiling song, with hidden depths.

While I enjoyed the more experimental, jazz fusion albums, to a great extent, I also feel there was something inherently Santana about this album. It had a vibrancy that those albums did not have, despite their good points. It is far more of a commercial album, comparatively. Oh look, I like all of them, but this is the more instant, uplifting listen. Maybe this because I am listening to it after the rewarding, but challenging, tones of Welcome.

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FESTIVAL (1977)

1. Carnaval
2. Let The Children Play
3. Jugando
4. Give Me Love
5. Verão Vermelho
6. Let The Music Set You Free
7. Revelations
8. Reach Up
9. The River
10. Try A Little Harder
11. Maria Caracoles   

1976's Amigos had seen Santana return to the rhythmic, Latin groove that had so characterised their first three albums, adding a pop sensibility. This album, the following year, continued in exactly the same vein. This album, however, has more soulful balladry on it and a little less of the Latin stuff this time out. There is still Latin material, but I always think of this as Santana's first soul-influenced album.
                         
The album opens with the Latin carnival Spanish groove of Carnaval. It merges seamlessly into the infectious vocal and sweet rhythm of Let The Children Play. On vocals this time is Oren Waters, replacing Greg Walker. Once again the track eases into the next one, the frantic Latin percussion of Jugando, augmented by Carlos Santana's first searing guitar solo. As we all know, this guy can play, if Santana albums from after Santana III are deemed to be a vehicle for Carlos's virtuosity, then so be it. He isn't all over this album, though, there are many other good points from its many other accomplished musicians.

  

Give Me Love is a sumptuous laid-back, soulful ballad. Verão Vermelho is a delicious semi-instrumental, with some gorgeous acoustic guitar and a Brazilian title that hints at its Samba feel. A big rock riff introduces the pounding, organ and drum-driven Let The Music Set You FreeRevelations has a quiet piano introduction before it moves into a slow, dignified guitar groove and then half way through Carlos ups it a bit and the percussion kicks in alongside his beautifully insistent guitar. Reach Up is a melodic, slow soulful number and The River goes even further down that road with what is probably Santana's first true slow soul ballad. It has a lovely, relaxing vibe to it and a smooth, effortless vocal.

The Latin party feel returns on the lively Try A Little Harder Now that basically repeats the same vocal refrain over some gorgeous bass and percussion rhythms. Santana's guitar near the end is excellent, of course. Maria Caracoles is a jaunty, brassy piece of Latin carnival fun. As the album had come in on a carnival thing, it had left on one, with some sweet laid-back soul in between. A nice album.

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INNER SECRETS (1978)

1. Dealer/Spanish Rose
2. Move On
3. One Chain (Don't Make No Prison)
4. Stormy
5. Well All Right
6. Open Invitation
7. Life Is A Lady/Holiday
8. The Facts Of Love
9. Wham!                                           

Coming at the height of punk, this contemporaneously incongruous album saw Santana shift from the Latin-influenced soul of the previous few albums to the adult-oriented rock sound that was to dominate their eighties output. There was surprisingly little Latin rhythm on the album at all. It is basically a rock/disco/soul album.

Current music trends meant little, although the nods to disco are clear. If the previous year's Festival had dabbled in soul, this one did so with disco. Although this is a little-mentioned Santana album, I really quite like it.

Dealer/Spanish Rose is a breezy, melodic opener, despite its lyrics about a shady drug dealer. It is a cover of a Traffic song, from their 1967 Mr. Fantasy album.  It has some sumptuous guitar riffs and intoxicating rhythms, as we had come to expect from Santana. The percussion backing on the verses and guitar interplay is gorgeous. Move On has a delicious, almost funky groove and here is where a slight disco feel can be found, but only very slightly. Carlos Santana interjects some classic guitar half way through over some sweet, soulful vocals. Greg Walker is back on lead vocals (his previous appearance was on 1976's Amigos). One Chain (Don't Make No Prison) is a cover of a 1974 Four Tops song and appears here as an extended disco groove, this most definitely had the disco feel about it, and is the first obviously disco track from the group. It doesn't stop Carlos adding some knife-through-butter guitar though. The funky backing is quite addictive at times, although seven minutes long, it doesn't get tiring. Fair play to Santana for experimenting with these sounds that were very much the sounds of the time.

  

Stormy is an absolutely sublime slice of laid-back soul/rock. It is a cover of a 1968 hit for a group called Classics IV, who I have to admit to not being familiar with. The dual guitar interplay near the end is excellent. Well All Right is a slowed-down, chunky, riffy rock cover of the Buddy Holly number. It works convincingly, with more trademark Santana guitar throughout.

Open Invitation is a muscular, once more riffy rock number. Excellent stuff and very different to any of the Santana fare we had become used to, either the Latin rhythms, soul grooves or experimental, meditative material of the mid-seventies. A classic Carlos solo introduces the graceful Life Is A Lady/Holiday. The final part of the instrumental is an appealing first outing for some percussive Latin rhythms.

The Facts Of Love is just wonderful - a beguiling, soul vibe and vocal to it and a stately majesty all over it. Wham! ties up the album with its only extended bit of Latin percussion and some recognisable Santana guitar. This is an album well worth checking out if you like the AOR side of Santana. You can't go too far wrong with it, if indeed that is your bag. Carlos does look like Manuel from Fawlty Towers on the cover, though.

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MARATHON (1979)

1. Marathon
2. Lightning In The Sky
3. Aqua Marine
4. You Know That I Love You
5. All I Ever Wanted
6. Stand Up
7. Runnin'
8. Summer Lady
9. Love
10. Stay (Beside Me)
11. Hard Times        

This is another Santana album in their series of AOR offerings, that are often not mentioned in assessments of the band's career or given much critical kudos. This is a bit of a shame as they are all pretty good albums. Culturally, the album is a bit out of time, with punk and new wave at their height. It ploughs a soulful AOR sound early on in the album that has an appealing, laid-back, almost jazzy late night feel in some places and a lively, infectious poppy rock sound in others as the album progresses. I like it, but I like it far more now than in 1979.
                          
The opener, Marathon, is a powerful short blast of guitar, drums and bongos that merges into Lightning In the Sky, a synthesiser-driven rock track that introduces new vocalist Alex Ligertwood, who would stay throughout the eighties. It is full of percussive rhythm and riffy interjections. Aqua Marine has a delicious bass line and a captivating, beguiling flute and keyboard melody. The whole track (it is an instrumental) has a beautiful, chilled-out ambience way before such things were part of a genre.

You Know That I Love You is a poppy, commercial-sounding number that, unsurprisingly, was released as a single. It doesn't really carry any Santana trademarks at all. If you didn't know it was Santana, you certainly wouldn't say it was them. It actually sounds a bit like Chicago's poppier late seventies output. All I Ever Wanted is vaguely punky-sounding number (if that were possible - something about the riff). Again, it has a poppy refrain and a bit of a later career Doobie Brothers feel about it.

  

The upbeat Stand Up is again a bit Doobie Brothers, with some impressive bluesy harmonica at one point before we get some wild organ soloing and funky guitar. Ligertwood's vocal has echoes of Steely Dan too. Runnin' is a brief, chunky slice of bass/drum and guitar instrumental interlude. It continues the high tempo feel of the album at this point. This is slowed down just a little for the mid-tempo soul of Summer Lady. Carlos Santana's guitar floats effectively in and out on this track, but, as with most of this album, it is certainly not omnipresent. Briefly, near the end, we get a bit of organ and percussion interplay that takes us right back to the late sixties/early seventies.

Love is a guitar-driven, slightly more recognisable Santana rock number, with Carlos contributing some searing guitar for the first time in such a blistering style. Stay (Beside Me) has the group going all Shakatak with some jazz-funky lounge bar piano and Carlos giving us some great guitar again. Good stuff. Hard Times has some swirling organ riffage and an excellent rock vocal. This is the hardest rocking track on the album. Carlos's guitar lights a bright, warm fire again, as if he has left the best contributions for the last three cuts. Some typically frenetic percussion signs off this album which, although I slightly prefer Inner Secrets is not quite the "run of the mill" offering many have said it to be.

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ZEBOP! (1981)

1. Changes
2. É Papa Ré
3. Primera Invasion
4. Searchin'
5. Over And Over
6. Winning
7. Tales of Kilimanjaro
8. The Sensitive Kind
9. American Gypsy
10. I Love You Much Too Much
11. Brightest Star
12. Hannibal        

This was one of Santana's most "rock" albums, with far less jazzy experimentation or Latin rhythms as on previous or later albums. It was very much aimed at the rock/pop mainstream.
                                    
Changes has a singalong Band-style country rock chorus and, half way through some searing, riffy guitar. It is far more of a rock song than a Latin, rhythmic number. É Papa Ré has some Latin syncopation and jazzy parts to it. It is one of the album's few Latin numbers. Even this one, however, ends with some heavy rock guitar. Primera Invasion is a more typical pice of Santana Latin rock, with some infectious percussion. It merges straight in to the synthesiser-driven pop rock of Searchin'. It has a real West Coast, AOR feel to it. It has some prog rock-style keyboards though, before Carlos Santana's trademark guitar arrives. It is a good track. Over And Over is a very commercial song, with a sort of REO Speedwagon meets ABBA chorus and vague hints of The Who's Behind Blue Eyes in the verses. It is as poppy as anything Santana has really done.

Winning is another most poppy number with hints, for me of Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill. Again, it is most un-Santana-ish. If you heard it you wouldn't say it was them. Santana's recognisable guitar introduces Tales Of Kilimanjaro, which is a muscular, thumping instrumental with a big, heavy bass sound. The Sensitive Kind is a soulful rhythmic number, with a captivating vocal. This is all very listenable stuff.

  

American Gypsy is the album's other typical Santana Latin groove, full of vibrant percussion, swirling Santana guitar and Spanish chanted lyrics. I Love You Much Too Much has a Parisian Walkways-style guitar melody. It is a most appealing, atmospheric instrumental. Brightest Star has some superb guitar introducing it, before some more soulful vocals arrive. The soul vocals on this album are provided by Alex Ligertwood. The track ends with a kind of Blood, Sweat & Tears-style blues rock vocal barrage. Hannibal is a more recognisable, Spanish vocal Latin workout to remind the listener that this was indeed Santana. To be fair, there is much that is trademark Santana dotted around, but the overall feel of radio-friendly rock is quite unusual for Carlos and his band.

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SHANGÓ (1982)

1. The Nile
2. Hold On
3. Night Hunting Time
4. Nowhere To Run
5. Nueva York
6. Oxun (Oshun)
7. Body Surfing
8. What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)
9. Let Me Inside
10. Warrior
11. Shangó      

This album was notable for the return of original band keyboardist Gregg Rolie. Sound-wise, the album ploughed a bit of a similar furrow to the rocky, periodically commercial predecessor, Zebop!, but this one had more Latin rhythm in it, although some of the riffs are seriously heavy. I like both Zebop! and this one. They are both breaths of fresh air. I actually think this is a great, underrated album. Santana's more full-on "rock" period was a good one, and a little-mentioned one, unfortunately. None of this material makes it on to Best Of Santana compilations, which is a shame.

The Nile is an atmospheric, soulful groove about Egypt, with brooding rhythms and a heavy drum sound. It has some excellent heavy rock riffs too. Hold On is a catchy, melodic number with a Doobie Brothers vibe to it, for me. It has a very chat-friendly poppy sound as well and, indeed, was a minor hit. Night Hunting Time is a delicious slice of captivating funky soul. Nowhere To Run is a  an energetic, guitar-driven rock pounder.

  

Being the eighties, synthesiser had to make a solid appearance sooner or later and it duly does on the instrumental Nueva York, together with some swirling organ. Carlos Santana's guitar flies around in typical fashion all over the track, and the percussion is, as you would expect, breathtakingly frantic. Carlos lays down some heavy riffs and the piano goes invitingly salsa.

Oxun (Oshun) is a jerky, rock-powered song about African roots, sung in gravelly fashion by Alex Ligertwood. It contains some infectious tribal percussion and vocals in the middle before Carlos gives us some searing rock guitar. There is some addictive stuff on here. This is continued on the sublime tones of Body Surfing which has some lovely, melodic verses and a big, heavy, rocking chorus. It also has some quirky Latin keyboard bits in the middle. The riff sounds a bit like that used on Michael Jackson's Beat It in places.

The cover of Junior Walker & The All-StarsWhat Does It Take (To Win Your Love) is a good one - rhythmic and soulful, with Carlos giving us the refrain on guitar. Let Me Inside has a warm, bassy backing and a deep, affecting groove. Another excellent track on an album that is full of them. Warrior is an ebullient, muscular rocky instrumental, with a superb rumbling bass line, and the title track is a short piece of tribal, African percussion to conclude a lively, most enjoyable and highly recommended album.

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BEYOND APPEARANCES (1985)

1. Breaking Out
2. Written In Sand
3. How Long
4. Brotherhood
5. Spirit
6. Say It Again
7. Who Loves You
8. I'm The One Who Loves You
9. Touchdown Raiders
10. Right Now      

This was the third of Santana's rock/pop albums. It appeared nearly three years after the previous one, Shangó and, as it was released in 1985, it was predictably loaded with synthesisers and synth drums. The previous two albums were by far the superior ones to this one, largely because of the eighties instrumentation used far more on here.
                                    
Breaking Out is a catchy, rocky opener with what is actually an acceptable drum sound (for 1985) and a strong vocal. It takes until near the end for Carlos Santana's guitar to kick in, however. When it does it is once again rock guitar as opposed to Latin. Written In Sand has a vocal that sounds remarkably like Sting, while the rhythm sounds a lot like Paul Simon's eighties material. Carlos's guitar is sublime. It is a good track, this one. How Long begins with some typically eighties synths, both keyboards and drums and a vocal that this time sounds just like Phil Collins. It is a good song, but the eighties production does nobody any favours. The vocals on both these are supplied by the versatile Alex Ligertwood.

Brotherhood is a short, frantic, synthy semi-instrumental with some occasional semi-spoken rapped vocals. It reminds me of The Clash's Overpowered By Funk. Very much of its era.

Spirit is a typically eighties soft rock-ish number, a bit like John Parr's St. Elmo's Fire. The same can be said of Say It Again. Look, all these songs are actually good rock songs, I just personally prefer a more traditional rock instrumentation. It doesn't stop this album being an enjoyable one, however. It is just that pretty much everyone who put albums out between 1985 and 1987 buried them in synthesisers - Elton John, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Rod Stewart, even The Rolling Stones. All guilty.


Who Loves You is a catchy, rhythmic rocker, yes again it is synthy, but I still like it. There is no Jingo-style Latin stuff on this album, or transcendental meditative jazz fusion on here, but that is eighties-era Santana for you - a different beast, or a beast in different clothes. Having said that, the end of Who Loves You features some Latin percussion and chanted Spanish vocals! I'm The One Who Loves You has a riff more played out by keyboard than guitar which is a shame, because the soulful vibe and vocal is excellent. It actually is a Curtis Mayfield song. Touchdown Raiders is a strong, guitar-powered instrumental, presumably bearing some relevance to American football. I wouldn't know as my knowledge of that sport is non-existent. Right Now is a lively, funky-ish poppy number, with some great rock guitar soling from Carlos, mid-song.

Look, if you are in search of classic Santana, you won't find it here, but actually, as eighties rock albums go, it is ok. Personally, I quite like Santana's rock/pop phase so it is fine by me. Obviously, I prefer the earlier stuff, but I won't snobbishly dismiss this material altogether, despite its comparative limitations.

**A piece of trivia about this album is that both drums and keyboards were played by men called Chester Thompson. (One of them used a "D" as a middle initial to differentiate).

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FREEDOM (1987)

1. Veracruz
2. She Can't Let Go
3. Once It's Gotcha
4. Love Is You
5. Songs Of Freedom
6. Deeper, Dig Deeper
7. Praise
8. Mandela
9. Before We Go
10. Victim Of Circumstance    

After several rock/pop albums in the eighties, this Santana album reverted, to a certain extent, to the Latin rhythms that made the band famous, while still being very much a product of is time, featuring synthesiser backing and sometimes a laid-back, soulful R'n'B sound as well as an upbeat eighties dance feel. For me, it has more of an eighties dance feel about it than a Latin rock album, for sure.

Several old band members returned, including vocalist Buddy Miles, replacing Alex Ligertwood. The album doesn't do it for me as much as many of the others, however, seeming at times to be a bit ordinary and very much of its time (a time that wasn't great for music). I prefer its three eighties predecessors, Zebop!, Shangó and Beyond Appearances. The synthesisers have taken over too much for me on this one. Any Carlos Santana guitar work is definitely second place to those accursed keyboards.
                    
Veracruz has a fetching rhythm to it, including some killer blues harmonica, despite the eighties-style synthesiser backing. She Can't Let Go is a mid-pace, seductive groove. A sweet soul eighties ballad. Its rhythm reminds of The ChristiansForgotten Town from the same period. Once It's Gotcha is an upbeat, dance-ish funky workout, again, very much of its time. Love Is You is a very easy listening, laid-back instrumental.

Songs Of Freedom is a lively, upbeat dance-ish groove. This eighties feel is continued on Deeper, Dig Deeper, which is given crowd noises to make it sound like a live recording, although I am not sure it is. Praise is a pretty unremarkable typically 1987 piece of synth pop.

  

Lots of artists put out Nelson Mandela tributes in this period. Santana's Mandela is, strangely, a South American-sounding, floaty instrumental. Its Latin rhythms certainly do not invoke any South African feelings. It is probably the album's most Latin number and has distinct jazzy undertones too.

Before We Go is pleasant enough, but it doesn't stick long in the mind. Victim Of Circumstance is probably the album's most riffy, rocking track. Overall, however, while this album is harmless, pleasant and unthreatening enough, there are many, many Santana albums I return to before this one. It is the curse of the mid-late eighties. I find I don't listen to many albums from any other artists from that period either, especially long-established artists. It is generally true that their worst work comes from this era.

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SPIRITS DANCING IN THE FLESH (1990)

1. Let There Be Light/Spirits Dancing In The Flesh
2. Gypsy Woman
3. It's A Jungle Out There
4. Soweto (Africa Libre)
5. Choose
6. Peace On Earth/Mother Earth/Third Stone From The Sun
7. Full Moon
8. Who's That Lady
9. Jin-Go-Lo-Ba
10. Goodness And Mercy   

After the somewhat undercooked, typically eighties fare of 1987's Freedom, this was quite a welcome change for Santana - an eclectic collection of guitar-heavy rock that would please many (although probably only the band's long-term core fanbase bought it). There is still quite a disco/rock theme to many of the songs, but it is an album far more driven by guitar than synthesisers, and that, for me, can only be a good thing. It is a vast improvement on the bland banality of its predecessor.
                    
The first track, Let There Be Light/Spirits Dancing In The Flesh begins with a pretty superfluous few minutes of choral vocals that sounds really quite pretentious, before some genuine guitar-driven Santana dance rock groove kicks in. This is actually good stuff, packed full of killer guitar and pounding rhythms. Gypsy Woman sounds as if it should be a Carlos Santana composition, but it is actually a Curtis Mayfield number. It is sumptuously seductive. Alex Ligertwood is back on vocals, and songs like this suit his voice.

  

It's A Jungle Out There has some solid guitar riffage on it and some infectious disco rhythms. The vocal is a great, soulful one. Soweto (Africa Libre), rather like Mandela on the previous album, does not actually have a South African vibe to it. Here, it is a gentle, breezy, laid-back back typically Santana Latin groove. It has a delicious jazzy piano and cymbals break in the middle. Compared to the last album's half-baked material, this really is more like it. Choose is a heavy thumper of a track with a very early nineties slow dance-influenced rock feel to it. There are hints of Prince in it, I think.

Peace On Earth/Mother Earth/Third Stone From The Sun begins as very much a Santana rock song in the style of their early eighties work, before it morphs into a cover of Jimi Hendrix's Third Stone From The Sun, with some superb guitar from Carlos Santana. That quality is continued on the instrumental that follows, Full MoonWho's That Lady is a funky, heavy drum-powered cover of The Isley BrothersThat Lady. Carlos's guitar is superb on this. Jin-Go-Ba-La uses the rhythm from Jingo from the band's 1969 debut album. It re-works the track to great, riffy, muscular effect. Goodness And Mercy appears to be a live cut to finish - a synthesiser-dominated instrumental. It is probably the least impressive track on what was otherwise a quite stirring offering.

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MILAGRO (1992)

1. Milagro
2. Somewhere In Heaven
3. Saja/Right On
4. Your Touch
5. Life Is For Living
6. Red Prophet
7. Agua Que Va Caer
8. Make Somebody Happy
9. Free All The People (South Africa)
10. Gypsy/Grajonca
11. We Don't Have To Wait
12. A Dios                 

After the refreshingly rocky Spirits Dancing In the Flesh from 1990, some have said this album is a bit more of an undistinguished "treading water" album, but it is not without its good points. Actually, it is pretty good, I have to say, being honest. It has been treated slighty unfairly. The tracks are all lengthy, and the sound quality is excellent - full and bassy. It feels as if it is somewhat run of the mill because it didn't sell well, and is not that well-known. You need to look beneath that, I think, and take it at face value.
                              
After a "live" introduction, the album then continues into studio recordings. Milagro is a sumptuous, lengthy rock/Latin/jazzy rhythmic workout, featuring some nice bass, percussion and the usual impressive guitar interjections from Carlos Santana. This is certainly miles better than the synthesiser-drenched material on 1987's Freedom. The musical soundscape was changing, as the nineties progressed, thankfully. The voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. introduces Somewhere In Heaven. After such a rousing intro, it is a bit surprising that the track is a beautiful piece of ambient music and Carlos's beautiful soloing. The vocal from long-time vocalist Alex Ligertwood, is laid-back and soulful. Some seriously heavy rock riffage comes in half way through, however (the track is one second short of ten minutes).

Saja/Right On is sublime, rhythmic, seductive and captivating. It is full of a soulful feel. Carlos's guitar is seriously searing too. Great stuff. Your Touch is another appetising soully groove. The bass, percussion and guitar interplay are properly back on this album and, as I said, those accursed synthesisers are less prevalent. They return to augment the lively intro to Life Is For Living, but quite impressively, I have to say. It is an infectious number with anti-apartheid lyrics and some Xhosa backing vocals near the end. Red Prophet has a deep, bassy, funky rhythm to it, different to the fast-paced stuff that has gone before.

  

Agua Que Va Caer is a Latin groove with typical Spanish lyrics and a Cuban-style beat. A great guitar solo on this one. Make Somebody Happy is pleasant enough, but unfortunately repeats the same two lines ad nauseum throughout the song. It doesn't really get anywhere. Free All The People (South Africa) is a chunky, vaguely reggae-influenced number dealing with the South African situation once more. Gypsy/Grajonca is a typical Santana guitar-driven instrumental. It is in two ambient parts. We Don't Have To Wait is an upbeat, powerful rock instrumental, full of swirling guitar, organ and pounding drums. A Dios is a short vocal and guitar ending, just over a minute long. Overall, this is a better album than many say, but is probably a couple of tracks too long. It loses effect after a while.

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