Santana
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Carlos Santana (www.warr.org)


Records reviewed on this page:

Santana - Abraxas - Santana III - Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live! - Caravanserai - Love, Devotion, Surrender - Borboletta - Amigos - Moonflower - Inner Secrets - Marathon - Swing Of Delight - Shangó - Havana Moon - Freedom - Blues For Salvador - Brothers - Supernatural


A few years after forming in San Francisco, an appearance at Woodstock propelled Santana into the spotlight, and their first three albums were tremendously popular. The group was the first to intelligently combine Latin American music with rock 'n' roll (no, "La Bamba" doesn't count), and Carlos Santana, the band's namesake, is a terrific lead guitarist - heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix but with his own distinctive sound and approach, tightly focused and cleanly articulated. After a brief commercial and artistic peak, the band continued to pump out records through the Seventies and early Eighties. Nowadays, Carlos Santana is a solo artist who puts out occasional low-key albums and works on various political causes. (DBW)

There's a very slick official Santana web site with the usual goodies but no detectable fan input. (JA)

Lineup: Carlos Santana, guitar, vocals; Mike Carrabello, percussion; Dave Brown, bass; José Chepito Areas, percussion; Mike Shrieve, drums; Gregg Rolie, keyboards, vocals. Neil Schon, guitar, added 1969. Brown replaced by Doug Rauch (bass), James Mingo Lewis (congas, bongos) added, 1972. Rolie and Schon left, 1973. Tom Coster (keyboards) joined 1974. I don't know when the others left, but by 1977 the only original member besides Santana was Areas, who left shortly thereafter.
Moonflower lineup: Greg Walker, vocals; Tom Coster, keyboards; Tom Coster, Jr., synth; Pablo Tellez, David Margen, bass; Graham Lear, drums; Raul Rekow, Pete Escovedo, percussion. Coster replaced by Greg Rhyne (keyboards), Chris Solberg (guitar) added, about 1978. Walker replaced by Alexander Ligertwood (vocals), 1979.
Early 80's lineup: Alexander J. Ligertwood, lead vocals; Richard Baker, keyboards; Margen; Lear; Orestes Vilato, Raul Rekow and Armando Peraza, percussion.


Live At The Fillmore '68 (rec. 1968, rel. 1997)
Two-CD set. (DBW)

Santana (1969)
The band was already pointed in the right direction, but wasn't quite ready for prime time: besides the Woodstock showstopper "Soul Sacrifice" and the catchy hit single "Evil Ways," the tunes are just excuses for jamming, and nobody's much of a soloist besides Santana. Even he isn't as formidable as he later became; he's an innocent bystander ("Savor") as often as he's brilliant ("Jingo"). Almost all the tunes are credited to the entire band, in true San Francisco communal style. Mostly instrumental, and you'll be thankful for that once you've heard Rollie bellow his way through "Persuasion." The production sounds rudimentary and rushed, which has disastrous results for the percussion: it mostly sounds like banging on cardboard boxes or tin cans. (DBW)

Abraxas (1970)
This record shows the band's strengths and weaknesses: they really swing on Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va," Carlos's playing soars throughout, particularly on "Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen" and the jazz-fusion piece "Incident At Neshabur" with Alberto Gianquinto on piano. However, featuring a sensitive, technically skilled pianist on one track highlights one of Santana's weaknesses: their keyboardist, Gregg Rolie, who contributes a couple of dull, rudimentary tunes ("Mother's Daughter," the overblown "Hope You're Feeling Better"), and takes up way more solo space than his modest talents merit. (And I'm not saying that because he later went on to found Journey.) Also in the minus column: the group had no good singer or songwriter, and often the compositions are minimal, just solo vehicles ("Se Acabó," "Samba Para Tí," "Singing Winds, Crying Beasts") - as time went by these problems became more limiting. But another point in the band's favor is that the jams don't go on forever the way so many other San Francisco records did... most of them are quite punchy and to the point, and when the band sinks its teeth into a groove it doesn't let go. (DBW)

Santana III (1971)
- Santana was on a huge roll at this point. They avoided the pretentious, spacey jams of other records and replaced them with high-energy five-minute wonders, of which the three vocal tracks are the best known: the frenetic Spencer Davis-like "Everybody's Everything," a big-deal hit powered by the Tower of Power horn section; the smooth "No One To Depend On," a weaker Top 40 hit employing the band's trademark Latin-meets-electric-blues sound; and the jangly get-happy "Everything's Coming Our Way." The two full-blown salsa numbers are Tito Puente's "Para Los Rumberos," and "Guajira," with guests Rico Reyes (vocal) and Mario Ochoa (piano); and everywhere there's tons of roaring Latin percussion. Santana's guitar technique is fantastic here, and adding a second guitarist (Neil Schon, later the co-founder of Journey) seems to help (I'm told that's his blistering wah-wah pedal work on "Everybody's Everything"). Abraxas was surely Santana's peak, but this is an even more accessible outing that you won't regret tracking down. Note: "Santana III" appears nowhere on the album cover, and is just the common name for one of two albums named Santana - the other one is the group's 1969 debut. (JA)
- Another strong success - not a single track is a throwaway - but "Everybody's Everything" is a bit obvious and I could've done without Schon's solos. Indeed, this is easier to get into than Abraxas, but it doesn't have as much depth, either. (DBW)

Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live! (Santana & Miles: 1972)
In a volcano crater, no less. In all the mythologizing about the Tumultuous Sixties, it's been largely forgotten that LSD consumption resulted in a lot more unlistenable noise than innovative brilliance, and the proof is right here on this disc. The band lurches from one disorganized jam to another, occasionally finding a recognizable tune (including one hit by each bandleader, "Evil Ways" and "Them Changes") but more often spewing acid-rock clichés. The most extreme example is the 25-minute "piece" that consumes the entire second side of the LP, "Free Form Funkafide Filth," which relies so heavily on lame-brained pentatonic riffs, distorted wah-wah and indulgent soloing that it's hard to sit through. Santana is brilliant enough to rise above all this sludge, but he doesn't do it here - his playing is so far below his usual level I'm shocked he agreed to the record's release. If you're still reading, there are apparently two drummers, Miles and Family Stone alumnus Gregg Errico, two guitarists (Santana and Schon) and a bass player, plus a horn section - the tenor player amusingly incorporates a number of Coltrane mannerisms into his solos, but without any of the musical invention. (DBW)

Caravanserai (1972)
- Santana's first genuinely experimental album. The only vocals are on "Just In Time To See The Sun," the gorgeous six-minute rewrite of Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova tune "Stone Flower," and the ambitious suite "All The Love Of The Universe." So there aren't any marketable pop songs - indeed, Santana didn't score another hit until 1977. But it's still consistently enjoyable, shifting effectively between the usual acid rock jamming and some jazzier, more ethereal pieces like the salsa-flavored "La Fuente Del Ritmo"; it helps that they switch off bass players, with Doug Rauch on electric and Tom Rutley on acoustic. They get it all to work on the nine-minute "Every Step Of The Way," which starts out incoherently but builds to an exciting orchestrated fade. There's also some atonal, electronic effect-laden jazz-fusion a la Weather Report (the Latin percussion showcase "Future Primitive"). So some of the record is shapeless, but the cumulative effect is relaxing, and even moving in the meditative way that Carlos clearly intended. Definitely not a record for beginners, but an interesting effort. Co-produced by Santana and Shrieve; the band members contributed more-or-less equally to the songwriting. (JA)
- Pleasant but too low key, except for the supremely funky "Look Up (To See What's Coming Down)." The rambling suites are longwinded, and the trippy percussion spotlights lack energy. But "Stone Flower" and "Fuente Del Ritmo" are well-done, and Carlos gets some fine playing in. This hit the Top 10 as well. (DBW)

Love Devotion Surrender (Carlos Santana & Mahavishnu John McLaughlin: 1973)
John McLaughlin is an extraordinarily nimble jazz guitarist, but you won't get much appreciation for him out of this ramshackle collection of Santana-esque jams. Most of the tunes are based on Coltrane ("A Love Supreme"), which means that the only vocal accompaniment consists of a few aggravatingly repetitive chants ("The Love Divine"). And most of the tunes run on endlessly and unimaginatively, so after a while it's just plain boring. When they're concise and acoustic (Coltrane's "Naima"; McLaughlin's "Meditation"), they're also diffuse and ethereal. And when they're not, it's just one blistering sheet of virtually random guitar arpeggios after another. For devotees only. The players here include a pack of percussionists (Jan Hammer, Mike Shrieve, etc.) and organist Khalid Yasin (the former Larry Young). (JA)
Inspired by Sri Chinmoy, then guru to Santana, McLaughlin, Stanley Clarke and who knows who else. (DBW)

Welcome (1973)
A relative flop, this still managed to reach #25 and go gold. (DBW)

Borboletta (1974)
Halfway between the great rock records of the early 70's and the crappy AM records of the late 70's. There are still a few driving tracks recalling the Abraxas period ("Give And Take"), while a mellow Latin jazz flavor pervades tunes like the instrumental "Canto De Los Flores" (featuring an uncredited flautist) and the AM fluff "Life Is Anew." The middling songwriting comes from a variety of sources: band members (new vocalist Leon Patillo's "Mirage"), guests, and outsiders like Jerry Martini ("One With The Sun," written with Earlyrin Martini, is more hippy-dippy soft-rock drivel, but it does build to a blistering Carlos-led climax). New keyboardist Tom Coster relies on Max Middleton's patented "swirling stereo" Rhodes sound when he's not playing organ. There is an unusually high percentage of guest artists: the opening and closing tracks don't feature any band members at all ("Spring Manifestations" is Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, the title track is played solely by Airto); bassist Stanley Clarke appears on four tunes, twice accompanied by Leon "Ndugu" Chancler; Jules Broussard plays sax on four or five, and Carlos sits out two band numbers, only playing on eight of the twelve tracks. But when he's on, he makes it all worthwhile (his own "Practice What You Preach," backed by gospelly organ). The first Santana record not to reach gold status. (DBW)

Illuminations (Carlos Santana and Alice Coltrane: 1974)

Lotus (1975)
A double live record, recorded in Japan in 1973. A predictable assortment of hits, focusing on the second and third records. (DBW)

Amigos (1976)
Santana seems on cruise control here, letting keyboard player Tom Coster co-write almost everything (usually with drummer Ndugu Leon Chancler). Unfortunately, Coster sounds like he'd listened to Wired over and over again until the needle wore out; he filches every last gimmick out of Jan Hammer's bag of Arp and Moog synth tricks, with exactly the same jazz and funk influences. Meanwhile, Greg Walker adds insincere R & B smarmster vocals to mediocre tunes like the repetitive fusion-salsa hybrid "Dance Sister Dance" and bassist David Brown's glitzy, goofy, generic funk-disco epic "Let It Shine." With both Chancler and percussionist Armando Peraza in the band, they could have done much better; but as it is, the high points here are merely ordinary. Peraza gets in a good Cuban groove tune that opens with a fine flamenco guitar solo by Carlos ("Gitano"), the speedy funk-fusion number "Let Me" is almost memorable, and Santana's few spotlights are as melodic as always ("Europa"). Not much to hang your hat on, but if you like Santana's late 70's sound, you won't regret owning the record. (JA)
Top Ten and gold again. (DBW)

Festival (1977)
(DBW)

Moonflower (1977)
This double album of mixed live and studio tracks might be all the Santana you need. For a change, Carlos takes up most of the solo space rather than spotlighting less talented musicians, and as usual his playing is brilliant. There are high-voltage live takes on many of the group's best-known hits ("Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen," "Soul Sacrifice," "Toussaint L'Overture") and rather than split them up into live and studio sides, the studio work is interspersed, which keeps things from boiling over. The studio tracks are mostly fusion in Jeff Beck's then-style, plus Latin percussion: keyboard player and co-producer Tom Coster again sounds just like Jan Hammer, and Santana often sounds surprisingly like Beck ("Bahia," "Go Within"). It's not exactly groundbreaking, but it sure is fun. Then there's the amusing cover of the Zombies' "She's Not There" redone in classic Santana style, which became their first Top 40 single in years. Some of the live tunes are just jamming vehicles ("Jugando"), Coster occasionally keeps playing when he's run out of ideas, and the rest of the band doesn't particularly shine, but Carlos Santana's at his best here, which should be good enough for anybody. (DBW)

Inner Secrets (1978)
With Coster out of the band, Santana comes up short on ideas and retreats to covers and should-have-been covers, dashing among late-70's pop music genres like disco, arena rock, and fusion as if he's desperate to catch whatever train is leaving the station and doesn't care where it might be going. There's a rote resurrection of "Dealer" that obliterates Traffic's engaging mania; an equally lifeless repetition of Blind Faith's arrangement of Buddy Holly's "Well All Right"; the smarmy "Stormy"; and a couple of generic tunes manufactured by producers Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter - a down-tempo funk ballad overflowing with false emotion ("The Facts Of Love"), and a thumping, derivative seven-minute disco number ("One Chain (Don't Make No Prison)"). Most of the original material is better, especially when Walker shuts up and lets Carlos play ("Life Is A Lady/Holiday"; "Wham!"). But only the band is to blame for their thudding arena-metal rocker "Open Invitation," and throughout there's so little of Santana's patented guitar wizardry that even fans will barely recognize the band they're listening to. (JA)

Oneness, Silver Dreams - Golden Reality (Carlos Santana: 1979)

Marathon (1979)
At this point Santana dumped Greg Walker and brought in vocalist Alexander Ligertwood, a macho Bobby Tench imitator who's set off by a shriller tenor and an even blander style. Thanks either to him or producer Keith Olsen, the band suddenly focused itself on extraordinarily crafted, but faceless arena rock: screeching guitars, feel-good synths, slick harmonies, a politely pounding rhythm section. "You Know That I Love You" sounds practically like Boston or (ack) Journey; "All I Ever Wanted" wastes a brilliantly snarling guitar lick on a hyperkinetic bluster-rock tune. There are still jazz-fusion ("Aqua Marine"), disco ("Stand Up") and Latin elements like salsa ("Summer Lady"), but they're deliberate flavorings of the kind you'd hear on a contemporary Rod Stewart album. Oddly, Carlos seems inspired by the change, and in places he's phenomenal, rising way above the usual AOR guitar-twiddling formula. I'm not sure what to make of this - if you turn your brain off you might find it good background music, but it's still a total sell-out. Everything's an original this time, although Carlos wasn't involved in writing a couple of tunes. (JA)

Swing Of Delight (Devadip Carlos Santana: 1980)
An ambitious jazz fusion album, with backing provided by Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams and Harvey Mason, plus (on several tunes) the Santana percussion section. Each gets some time in the spotlight (Carter's playing is lovely on "Gardenia"), though most of the solo space is Santana's. Ligertwood adds vocals to "La Llave"; otherwise everything's instrumental. The song selection's not up to the level of the soloists: three toothless songs are credited to guru Sri Chinmoy ("Swapan Tari," where Carlos fiddles with his guitar trying to find a substantive lick), and Shorter's "Shere Khan, The Tiger" is no more substantial. The backing musicians sound much more comfortable and assured on the one straight jazz tune ("Jharna Kala"), and the other highlights are straight fusion recalling Wired ("Song For My Brother," with fine multi-tracked guitar work). There are fine touches throughout ("Phuler Matan"), Carlos sounds great, and there are none of the tacky pop moments you find on all Satana band albums post-1972 or so. (DBW)

Zebop! (1981)
Again Carlos was deserted by almost his entire band, but smooth-voiced Alexander Ligertwood propelled the group back into the Top 10 by crooning the corny pop hit "Winning" (by Russ Ballard). (DBW)

Shangó (1982)
Trust me on this one. After the success of Zebop!, Santana decided to push the AM hit formula to the extreme: "The Nile" and the single "Hold On" are embarrassing attempts at light soul; "Nowhere To Run" (another Russ Ballard effort) is a listless soft rocker; "Night Hunting Time" is an obvious shot at AOR; "Nueva York" is a semi-successful take on the Santana sound of old. That's side one; the whole formula repeats on side two, including a cover of the 1969 Jr. Walker hit "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)." Basically, you'll only believe you're listening to a Santana record when Carlos beams in for a brief, frequently exciting solo - otherwise, it's unadulterated MOR sludge. Several producers including Bill Szymczyk, John Ryan, Santana himself, and Gregg Rolie, who appears on a couple of tracks. Otherwise, the band is mostly held over from the previous record: Ligertwood, Lear, Peraza, Vilato, etc. (DBW)
They did have another major hit here with "Hold On," but then dropped off the charts again. (JA)

Havana Moon (Carlos Santana: 1983)
A retro rock album with the Fabulous Thunderbirds on most of the tracks, and it's just as bad as you'd think. Carlos unwisely lets Jimmie Vaughan and especially harmonica player/singer Kim Wilson take solo after solo... Carlos, I can hear them on their own albums. The tunes include Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love," the 1960 hit "Watch Your Step," and the title track (by Chuck Berry), all of which have that overobvious Thunderbirds sound we all know and despise. Then for some reason, Willie Nelson was summoned to add vocals to "They All Went To Mexico." The only good news is a rare vocal appearance by Booker T. Jones on his "One With You," and an extended instrumental, "Tales Of Kilimanjaro," that's basically a Santana outtake. Oh, and the Mexican standard "Vereda Tropical" is okay, rendered in traditional style, but Carlos isn't on the track at all. Is this supposed to be a solo record or a guest DJ spot? (DBW)

Beyond Appearances (1985)
Greg Walker was back splitting vocal duties with Ligertwood, the team of Margen & Lear was gone, Alfonso Johnson took over on bass, and multi-instrumentalist Chester C. Thompson came on board. Produced by Val Garay, who brought in some session musicians like Mitchell Froom. Most of the tunes are by band members, though there's a cover of Curtis Mayfield's "I'm The One Who Loves You." Review coming soon. (DBW)

Freedom (1987)
This time there's a pretty consistent bass-heavy funk-rock sound, looser and less slick than the early 80's albums. As a result, the percussion section gets more room to play, and they sound great. The problem is, the songs - all written by the band - don't have the great driving riffs that sloppy funk-rock needs: all the hooks are bland and unmemorable, on everything from roadhouse blues ("Veracruz," with guest vocals from Junior Wells and Buddy Guy) to ballads ("She Can't Let Go") to the would-be artists' manifesto "Songs Of Freedom." I'm tempted to lay much of the blame on new lead singer Buddy Miles, since his 1972 pairing with Santana had the same problems, only to a greater degree. As usual for this period, Carlos is the featured player on a couple of instrumentals (the melodic "Love Is You"), but on most of the tracks just sits around waiting for his solo, which aren't even that great ("Victim Of Circumstance"). 1987 was the Year of the Nelson Mandela Tribute, and Santana weighed in with the instrumental "Mandela." Chester Thompson and Coster are both on keyboards, with help from Rolie and somebody named Sterling; the rhythm section remained more or less intact. Jeffrey Cohen co-wrote the three songs he produced with Carlos, while the bulk of the album was produced by Carlos with Thompson and Sterling. (DBW)

Blues For Salvador (Carlos Santana: 1988)
This sounds like a collection of outtakes, which is more or less confirmed by the liner notes. Almost everything is instrumental, which is fine with me, but they're also hit-or-miss unstructured jams: "Now That You Know" is a live improvisation that occasionally connects, but squanders most of its nine minutes of album real estate; "Trane" features Tony Williams on drums but doesn't really go anywhere; the title track is a lengthy guitar solo with just a synth accompanying - it might have worked better if it had been fleshed out. Though this is basically a fans-only release, there are some nice tunes here: "Bailando/Aquatic Park" is squarely in the mellow fusion Santana tradition; an alternate take of "Deeper, Dig Deeper" is a guitar improvisation over drum machine/spare synth backing that sounds eerily like something you'd hear on a Prince bootleg. The band includes Chester Thompson on keyboards, Buddy Miles on drums, and other associates including the Santana percussion section. (DBW)

Spirits Dancing In The Flesh (1990)
New recruits include Benny Rietveld on bass and Walfredo Reyes on percussion. Lots of guests including Stephen King(!), Jim Gilstrap and Oren Waters. Vernon Reid is listed as a co-producer, but apparently doesn't perform. (DBW)

Milagro (1992)
A large group featuring a full horn section, and Carlos' brother Jorge "Second Banana" Santana on acoustic guitar. Includes a sample of John Coltrane's "Mars." (DBW)

Sacred Fire: Santana Live In South America (1993)
Look for a review soon. (DBW)

Brothers (1994)
A collaboration featuring Carlos, his guitar-wielding brother Jorge and their guitar-wielding nephew, Carlos Hernández. Though the other two certainly can play (and each gets a solo feature to prove it), Carlos Santana is already adept at so many styles himself that it amounts to an embarrassment of riches: on the three-way showdowns ("The Trip," "La Danza") you might as well be listening to him multitracked. There are two saving graces: there's so much guitar playing there's no time for the sappy pop vocal numbers that clutter up most Santana records (all the tunes are instrumentals), and the compositions are almost never just excuses for solos: "Contigo" is a flawless, tuneful mix of salsa, jazz and rock, while "Transmutation/Industrial" is heavy metal plus intelligence (both tunes written by the two Santanas). You can almost hear Santana thinking, "Take that, Joe Satriani!" Hernández gets in one composition, "Thoughts," but he still has a long way to go to catch up with his elders; there are also several traditional tunes, including Joaquin Rodrigo's "En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor," which features some of Carlos Santana's most articulate soloing on the disc. Other than Thompson and Reyes, it's a whole new band again: Myron Dove plays bass, Billy Johnson's on drums, and Karl Perazzo plays percussion. (DBW)

Supernatural (1999)
Perhaps the weirdest story of 1999 pop was the uncanny chart dominance of this so-so album by a semi-retired geezer. It's definitely got its moments: the single "Smooth," a deliberate throwback to early 70's salsa-plus-electric guitar Santana written and sung by Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, is undeniably catchy, and it topped the charts for months. And the carefully-assembled group of A-list guest stars - Lauryn Hill, who contributes the mind-numbing "Do You Like The Way"; Everlast, whose feature "Put Your Lights On" is dull alterna-angst interrupted by an incongruous Carlos solo; Dave Matthews; Eric Clapton - guaranteed a certain level of sales. Santana's playing is brilliant as usual, even on the duller tunes (Eagle-Eye Cherry's "Wishing It Was"), and you've got to give him credit for sticking a stinging attack on US immigration policy ("Migra") into such a commercial project. The approach is somewhat lacking in depth, though: the collaboration with Mexican rockers Maná ("Corazón Espinado") is virtually identical to "Smooth," and many of the compositions are ordinary specimens of either salsa-fusion ("El Farol," "(Da Le) Yeleo") or pop/hip hop (Wyclef Jean's "Maria Maria," the endless Clapton collaboration "The Calling"). If you haven't picked up a Santana album in a decade or two, this isn't a bad way to get reacquainted, but he's done better work as recently as... well, his last album. Produced by Clive Davis and Carlos Santana. This won a pile of Grammys including Record and Album of the Year. (DBW)

Shaman (2002)
The Supernatural formula is reused, with guest singers like Seal, Macy Gray, Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, and Michelle Branch (her horrendous lite rocker "The Game Of Love" was the single). (DBW)












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