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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