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SHAMAN

Santana

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

2.46 | 47 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars I was happy for Carlos and his namesake band when their 1999 "comeback" album aptly entitled "Supernatural" turned out to be one of the most successful of its kind ever, garnering the coveted Album of the Year Grammy award and the recognition they so deserved for decades of making a positive difference in the world of music. However, I found the record itself to be inconsistent and often too dependent on trying to be "trendy" by including way, way too much of the rap and hip-hop mentality that I find musically degrading and primitive most of the time. It came off more as a guest star-studded tribute project than a true Santana album and to this day I still consider it to be only slightly above average in overall quality. So, when the follow-up, "Shaman," was released in 2002 I didn't expect much at all. Kinda like someone making a sequel to a blockbuster movie. If you didn't like the first one (and even if you did), chances are you'll be majorly disappointed with Act Two, as well. In fact, I held off giving it a listen for almost a decade for fear of aurally witnessing another one of my heroes selling his soul in response to the lure of the almighty dollar but I'm glad to report that I find it an improvement over rather than a continuation of its predecessor's unevenness. Santana's reputation remains intact.

One huge reason is that Carlos settled on a cadre of talented musicians to construct the basic tracks this time around instead of having a revolving door of unfamiliar personnel traipse through the studio, a flawed ploy that contributed to the wild variations in the foundational sound that so bugged me about many of the cuts on "Supernatural." Having the great Michael Shrieve man the drum kit for every session was a very wise decision and locking in keyboard man John Ginty and percussion virtuoso Karl Perazza for continuity didn't hurt, either. I'm sure that Columbia Records, hoping for a repeat of '99, encouraged (i.e. begged) Carlos to bring in another Pro Bowl cast of iconic virtuosos to populate the tracks, thus upping the odds of success and making their marketing job easier. But instead, by restricting the invited dignitaries' contributions to mainly vocals, the results were more in line with what we've come to expect from him and his cohorts.

They make a bold statement with the opener, "Adouma." The tune charges out of the gate with a refreshing blast of what makes Santana such a unique joy; unyielding rhythms, melodic themes and scorching riffs. Spanish guitar and Musiq Soulchild's lone voice stroll atop a confident, purposeful Latin beat that jogs underneath "Nothing At All." This entertaining song reaps benefits from its mature compositional structure and a very intelligent arrangement. "The Game of Love" is next, the tune that got the most radio exposure and did the album a lot of favors by climbing up into the top five on the singles chart. While not as incurably catchy as "Smooth," it does uphold the group's standard of integrity by featuring Michelle Branch's cool vocal and an array of the group's signature sounds. For "You Are My Kind" the band adopted a flowing-yet-aggressive approach that propels this simple song and gives it an admirable character. The then in-vogue flat drum ambience they use on "Amore (Sexo)" had me worried at first but Karl's hot congas and percussion quickly joining in allayed my anxiety in a flash. The number turns out to be a sassy, south-of-the-border deal with the voice of spunky Macy Gray electrifying the track.

"Foo Foo" is an energy-filled, one-mile relay sprint wherein the ensemble assembled erects a fabulous, festive atmosphere. I don't know what they're singing, exactly, but I can tell they're having a rave up doing it. This tune probably killed in concert because every musician gets a turn filling in a gap and showing off at the same time. Carlos' "Victory is Won" follows and it's a lush instrumental with beautiful melody lines and strong drums from Shrieve that endow it with big cojones. Ginty's Hammond solo is exceptional while Santana's guitar ride is passionate and, at times, splendidly out-of-control. I knew it had to come eventually but the tattooed hip-hop bunny finally intrudes in the form of "Since Supernatural." At least they didn't abandon all melodic sensibilities, making this cut almost passable but I'm not comfortable with the "let's glorify the group" slant that I initially noticed on their last disc. To me it's pandering and beneath them. A toweringly fat, proggy opening for "America" belies the arena rock persona this song portrays without apology. I'm not all that impressed with the tune itself but Carlos makes it worthwhile by tearing the roof off the studio with his intense guitar ride. The bluesy air that surrounds "Sideways" clears the air efficiently without it becoming another tired dose of "da blooz." Some guy named Citizen Cope's singing and the uplifting, semi-reggae feel make this cut really stick out in a good way. Chad Kroeger of Nickelback wrote and does vocal duty on "Why Don't You and I," a pop/rock ditty that manages to not be patronizing, at least. It may've been a #8 hit but I find it rather unassuming and inconsequential.

"Feels Like Fire" features Dido crooning into the microphone and it's fairly tame contemporary fare that passes by without incident. Where's the fire? Yawn. The startling wake up call that is "Aye, Aye, Aye" is an instant cure for complacency, however, fueled by wonderfully busy Latin percussion and an irrepressible drive courtesy of Michael. This track emphasizes the fun side of Santana and makes up for a lot of the record's marginal moments. "Hoy es Adios" is a slower-paced, modern Mexican ballad whose most distinguishing assets are Carlos' acoustic guitar playing and the light, imaginative keyboard effects that surround Alejandro Lerner's emotional singing. "One of These Days" is next and its edgy samba/rock beat grants the tune an identifiable "War" aura supplemented by enthusiastic, all-together-now warblings from the boys in the band on the chorus. Carlos' lead is both tasteful and stirring. From the "What the hell?" department comes "Novus," an eclectic mixture of a percussive undertow, a heavy rock guitar and Placido Domingo throating what sounds like an Italian aria. It's nothing if not intriguing, that's for sure, and damned if they don't somehow make it work! It took big ones to even try such an unlikely experiment.

The album was released on October 22, 2002 and plopped itself right at the tip top of the charts from day one so the suits at Columbia led a conga line right out onto the streets, no doubt. Admittedly, in the long run it didn't match "Supernatural" in sales and popularity (few do), but it did prove that Carlos and Company hadn't waved "adios" and retired to the retirement hacienda just yet. While it doesn't rival the magnificence of the band's first four records in any way, shape or form, I do find "Shaman" to be a better album than several of their questionable offerings over the years and it's one that I'll play from time to time for two reasons. One, I was in a funk before I put this one on today and it cheered me right up. Two, because eight of the sixteen tracks are excellent while the rest are no worse than average. I'll take that ratio any time. Three and a half stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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