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Santana - Supernatural CD (album) cover




Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.18 | 191 ratings

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3 stars After 1992's nondescript "Milagro" Carlos Santana dropped off the map more or less (1994's "Santana Brothers" doesn't count for much) until he signed with Arista Records and reunited with the man who discovered him for Columbia three decades earlier. Clive Davis convinced Carlos that he could successfully blend his signature sound with modern trends and much younger artists to stage a comeback to end all comebacks. The result was "Supernatural" and, with over 21 million copies sold worldwide and nine Grammy awards, you gotta think that maybe ol' Clive was onto something. That or he was magically clairvoyant.

The album starts with a bang as "(Da Le) Yaleo" storms out of the gate with the kind of power that reminds you of Santana's crackerjack band way, way back in their glory years. Carlos' stinging guitar licks, the ferocious percussion of Karl Perazzo and Raul Rekow speeding alongside drummer Billy Johnson and a cool piano solo from Chester Thompson lead up to some terrific interactions and accents with a punchy horn section to set the bar at a formidable height. Ah, If only Santana could have stayed the course he plots with that opening salvo. Despite being an okay tune, "Love of my Life" is a bit of a letdown after all that excitement. It's above-average AOR fare featuring Dave Matthews on vocal that putters along casually until it slips into a more upbeat Salsa groove. The change is a nice touch and it gives Carlos and his percussionists a chance to jam. Unfortunately this album turns out to be one that requires a few jabs on the remote's skip button starting with the dreary "Put Your Lights On." In spite of a too-brief heavy metal-tinged spasm in the middle, some guy named Everlast (Never heard of him. He might as well be "passed gas" as far as I know) mumbles huskily through this dirge repeating "Hey Now" every so often which gives me a chuckle because it was the trademark catch-phrase for Hank Kingsley on the defunct but hilarious "Larry Sanders Show" on HBO. But I digress (much like this record does all too often).

"African Bamba" has a decent groove to it and Santana's Spanish acoustic guitar stylings are a welcome change of pace. But it's his hot electric guitar lead at the end that really distinguishes this track. I grew weary of hearing "Smooth" played over and over ad nauseum but you have to concede that when a hit single stays at #1 for twelve consecutive weeks Carlos and his producers are due credit for creating the perfect song for the end of the millennium. It's got great dynamics, spicy percussion, a slyly provocative vocal from Rob Thomas, an infectious rock beat and a lot of fiery notes pouring constantly from Santana's guitar. (Plus it was popular when I met my wife so, of course, it became "our song." And, boy, was I ever "smooth." Not to mention lucky and if you saw her you'd know what I mean.) From there Carlos sinks like the Bismarck to what may be his all-time low with the horrid "Do You Like the Way." Hit the skip button as soon as you can here because this is an unholy mixture of rap and badly performed soul music that Santana should be ashamed of. I don't mind saying that I utterly abhor rap and always will. It's as far from progressive music as one can possibly get and shouldn't be spoken of as music at all. Don't get me started.

"Maria Maria" (which, as a single, occupied the #1 spot for ten weeks) is a passable ditty, definitely a huge improvement over the previous cut but I've never been too crazy about the song. I really don't get the repeated references to Carlos Santana that pop up throughout the tune. I guess producer Wyclef Jean was either paying respectful homage or kissing his butt. Whatever. Just when things are getting stale and predictable, "Migra" comes storming in to save the day. This is vintage Santana with rolling jungle drums, rhythmic percussion and a contagious melody. What sets Carlos apart from everybody else is his unique talent as a true six-string virtuoso and here he puts on a clinic in rock guitar. It's one of the best tracks on the CD. "Corazon Espinado" continues to ride the newfound momentum with its percussion-fueled Salsa beat and with Santana tearing it up pretty good on his axe once again. "Wishing it Was" follows and it might have worked much better if it hadn't been burdened with a clumsy hip-hop undertow. Carlos throws in some slashing guitar runs but it's not nearly enough to keep this clunker from going absolutely nowhere.

As I said earlier, however, it's Santana's guitarisms we show up for and we get large doses of his genius on both the instrumental "El Farol," where Carlos shows his romantic yet bold and passionate side, and on "Primavera" that sports a jazzy Latin flavor. When I saw that Eric Clapton was the guest artist on "The Calling" I got my hopes sky high for a real throw-down but, alas, it fails to impress. Unlike the spectacular duets between Santana and John McLaughlin where they drove each other to the upper limits of their abilities, here Eric and Carlos play as if they're afraid of stepping on each other's toes. They spar timidly during the spacey first segment, then another dreadful hip-hop churning starts up beneath them along with a choral chant while they continue to noodle back and forth. It's a shame and a wasted opportunity, really. But the good news is that there's a bonus cut called "Day of Celebration" added on the end that's downright proggish in that it's a trip back to the heady days of "Caravanserai" when The Santana Band was exploring the boundaries of jazz rock/fusion. Carlos plays with an inspired fierceness and the percussion sounds like it's about to burst right out of the speakers. The bad news is that it's only about 5 minutes long. Makes me wish the whole album would have been steered in this direction.

With the exception of some moments in about 2 or 3 cuts there's not a lot of progressive music to be found here. I'm glad that Mr. Santana found his way back into the limelight after almost sinking into obscurity but the pop mentality that dominates many of these tunes and his unwise, dubious dabbling in the dismal, dead-end world of rap and hip hop keep this CD from being anything I would highly recommend. It's not as terrible as his worst but it's far from his acme. 2.7 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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