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Santana - All that I am CD (album) cover

ALL THAT I AM

Santana

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

2.21 | 31 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
3 stars The saying goes that the third time's the charm but that adage doesn't apply to sequels. (Logic will tell you that if the first in a series of artistic endeavors wasn't the principal 'charmer' then there is no need for even a single follow-up.) In fact, the odds are stacked heavily against #2 causing nearly as much of a stir, much less #3. In Santana's case their comeback album 'Supernatural' was such a smash success on all fronts at the end of the millennium that any attempt to duplicate its worldwide popularity was doomed to pale in comparison but that didn't stop Carlos and his record label from going for it anyway. The band had been making albums since the late 60s but they'd fallen into a rut over the decades and were no longer a major player in the biz when they signed with Arista. 'Supernatural' was different in that it was a Clive Davis brainstorm featuring a host of guest artists joining in that had no affiliation with the famous outfit other than growing up with their music playing constantly on classic rock radio. It was the right ploy at just the right time and it deserved all the accolades and Grammys it received. And, in the group's defense, the equally star-studded 'Shaman' that came out over two years later was no mongrel dog. It debuted at #1 upon its release and spawned a top ten hit so to call it a failure is ludicrous. However, when three years later they employed the same approach for 'All That I Am' it became obvious to Santana's legion of fans that they were going to milk this particular formula for every drop they could and the 'been there done that' malaise started to take effect. We were now onto their predictable game.

Having said that, even an average Santana record is usually vastly superior to 99% of the aural schlock foisted upon the public in any given year and 'All That I Am,' while far from being a masterpiece, still contains moments of excellence to enjoy. 'Hermes' gets the album off to a fine start with Chester Thompson's unexpected retro organ sound and then it explodes into full Latin locomotion complete with a bold horn section and the band's trademark ensemble chanting. It's an exciting cut with everything that makes Santana a great musical entity included in it. On 'El Fuego' Carlos stays true to his festive Mexican heritage and native language by presenting an emotionally-charged song that sports passionate singing and punchy percussion emanating from Karl Perazzo and Raul Rekow. If they'd stayed with that fiery motif then this would've been an intriguing departure from the previous two records but at this point with 'I'm Feeling You' they tried to manufacture a hit song (never a good idea) and this is where the album begins to lose momentum. Michelle Branch's impressive vocal style had pushed 2002's 'The Game of Love' into the top 5 of the singles chart so I guess they were hoping lightning would strike twice. No go. It's a poppy number, alright, and Branch's chirpy voice dominates but the songwriting is somewhat plain vanilla and it petered out at a disappointing #55. It becomes apparent that the tracks Carlos personally produced (almost half of the disc) represent the best of the bunch while the majority of the rest ('I'm Feeling You' included) give the impression that the other producers assigned to this project put the tunes together as they saw fit and had Carlos come in at the end to sweeten them up with his signature guitar licks. I could be wrong but that's how it comes off to me.

One unfortunate trend that tagged along with Santana's return to prominence in '99 was their allowing hip hop influences to taint their image. (Sorry if that's your cup o' tea but I just don't like it.) 'My Man' is an example of what's wrong with 21st century R&B. Rhythm & Blues is a genre of music I used to enjoy but nowadays have a lot of difficulty embracing. I appreciate the talent of Mary J. Blige and her innate singing ability but Big Boi's hip hop injections severely and immediately suck out whatever potential the song might've had. I love Steven Tyler's voice but the familiar Santana motif that abounds in 'Just Feel Better' frames it in such an alien format from Aerosmith that I find it impossible to completely surrender to the premise. The tune is okay and Carlos' playing is decent but it falls just short of the mark. Will.i.am is the visiting star of 'I Am Somebody' but the song is more of the unsettling blend of Latin inflections with modern R&B attitudes that does nada for me. Numbers like this one leave very little room for Carlos to do his thing efficiently so by now the album is on the skids and needs a shot in the arm. Carlos produced the next cut, 'Con Santana,' and the contrast in energy is like night and day. It's a return to the Spanish vibe he obviously feels most comfortable working in and his guitar playing is much more fluid and melodic accordingly. 'Twisted' is a pleasant surprise. Its infectious groove is irresistible via its sexy sway and lazy gait carrying you along. Anthony Hamilton's cleverly intertwining vocal lines and the track's overall atmosphere help to set this song apart from the rest. 'Trinity' looks promising on paper with Metallica's Kirk Hammett joining Carlos for a guitar romp and the duo almost pull it off. Alas, it's no more than a slightly interesting jam over two repeating chords that never reaches the heights one would anticipate hearing from virtuosos with such dissimilar yet undeniably powerful approaches to their instruments.

'Cry Baby Cry' is the absolute pits. Sean Paul's monotonous, inane rapping had me tuning out before I even had a chance to hear the normally entertaining Joss Stone jump into the questionable fray. Frankly, this stuff is boring and demeaning. Enough already! Anything would be an improvement over that cow pie at this juncture and 'Brown Skin Girl' goes beyond the call of duty. It's a slice of traditional R&B-hued pop that rock & roller Bo Bice bolsters with strong, confident singing and the tune benefits from a dynamic arrangement that permits the potent Latin percussion and Carlos' hot licks to spice up the proceedings spectacularly. 'I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love' (penned by the spunky Los Lonely Boys) is next. Drummer Ringo Garza's boisterous beat drives this tune relentlessly throughout while Carlos lets loose with a string of penetrating runs. Santana closes with 'Da Tu Amor,' an energized Spanish rocker that showcases all of the more favorable and admirable ingredients this record owns, wrapped up in an explosive, enthusiastically-presented instrumental package.

Released in the fall of 2005, 'All That I Am' soared up to the #2 spot on the album charts but, lacking a galvanizing single (like the phenomenal 'Smooth' was for 'Supernatural'); it slid out of the realm of must-have status in short order. One can only straddle the fence between doing what you're gifted at and striving to be trendy for so long before you lose credibility and that's the main flaw in this record. When it's good it's very good but when it's bad it's dreadful. Hopefully this will mark the end of their once-marketable 'let's-bring-in-everybody-and-their-cousins-to-assist-us' approach to making music and Carlos and Company will stun the planet by reviving the innovative, adventurous spirit that gave us landmarks like 'Caravanserai' and 'Abraxas.' Hope springs eternal. 2.8 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |

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