Carlos Santana re-unites the ‘classic’ line-up of his band and succeeds in recapturing its spirit. He gives us blues, space-rock, funk and blistering guitar all riding a groove of Latin percussion.
Label: Santana IV Records
Time: 16 tracks / 75 mins
Rock’s history is littered with bands that saw success come too quickly, imploded, disbanded with the pressure and failed to continue their best work.
Santana were global superstars by the release of their third album in 1971, at which point joint guitarist Neal Schon and bassist Gregg Rolie left to form Journey. So when the eponymous guitarist re-unites the 'classic' band line-up, names this album Santana IV and uses iconic lion artwork, as if the intervening 45 years had not happened, he makes clear his serious intent to re-establish the spirit of their greatest work.
Right from opener “Yambu” we can feel that passion. Santana IV has a confident groove and that swagger underlies a purposeful set of tunes that have time to branch off in several directions, while keeping the unique sound of classic Santana.
Along the way, the band puts out Blackmore-like guitar work (“Shake It”); ambient space-rock (“Fillmore East,” and “Forgiveness,” where the guitar takes on a deeply Jeff Beck-like style); funk (“Freedom in your Mind”); beautiful guitar instrumentals (“You and I”) and some pure blues (“Blues Magic”), backed all the way by their defining percussive Latin rhythms.
As often with Santana, lyrics are the weak point. When guest Ronald Isley uses his distinctive smoky vocals on two tracks, he has to take on well-meaning, but rather naïve, lyrics like “We will heal the world, mend the human race... we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” and “Life will never be misery. We can change the world and bring peace... making everyday a holiday.” Yep, we’ll have the world sorted by the end of the month.
And it gets plain embarrassing on the intro to “Anywhere You Want to Go.” You almost want to look away as the spoken vocal goes, “Hey Baby, what's your name Baby? Come over here girl, sit on my lap.”
Still, these low points are only occasional and this is another disc that you are buying for the whole sound and feel, rather than the accompanying lyrics. Generally, this is Santana on fire. “Choo Choo,” with its strangely suggestive lyrics about his electric train, has a compelling swaying poppiness to the song part before it breaks out into frenetic soloing in its follow-on track “All Aboard.”
Is there a new “Samba Pa Ti”? Not quite, but “Sueños” comes close. It’s a slow-burning, bluesy, acoustic guitar piece that becomes electric from time to time, with the Hammond swelling behind it.
There may be less of an inventive spirit than when some far younger Latin rock pioneers were defying the watchtowers of musical boundaries, but they have also grown as musicians in that time. There is plenty here to say, “Mission accomplished” as far as reconvening a classic line-up goes. It is a re-union to celebrate, and should please all but the most demanding Santana fans.