Santana IV Records [Release date 15.04.16]
In the early 1970s, Santana ‘III’ was the soundtrack of my youth, an album when the band consolidated their Latin Rock credentials and arguably one of their strongest offerings. The album is awash with great swathes of frenetic guitaring, heavy percussion and interjecting Hammond. My own interest in the band started to wane after that decade and definitely turned off after ‘Supernatural’ which overworked cash registers across the world after its release in 1999.
In more recent times, Santana’s band albums have remained safe and predictable although 2012′s ‘Shape Shifter’ – assembled over an extended period – was to some extent a throwback to headier times and showed that in the millennium Carlos hadn’t lost his musical marbles.
When, therefore, it was announced that the surviving members of the Santana III line-up (i.e. with Neal Schon) would reconvene for another bash, general interest was re-awakened. Could they recapture the atmosphere and maybe even the urgency of that classic album?
The band have avoided the obvious temptation to re-make Santana III by numbers, instead gently updating the approach as evidenced on the opener ‘Yambu’ with its world flavours.
On ‘Shake It Up’ Schon shares in the overall guitar groove fest whilst the gently building instrumental ‘Fillmore East’ sounds like an outtake from ‘Caravanserai’, the album that followed ‘III’ and was the last to feature the future Journeyman.
The great Ronald Isley lends his soulful vocals to two tracks which are blatantly radio-friendly. ‘Love Makes The World Go Round’ is the first time we hear Greg Rolie’s sonorous Hammond really cut through the ether .
‘Freedom in Your Mind’ and ‘Choo Choo’ almost polarise the approach over a 40 year period: Isley fronting a funky nod to the first two albums, whilst the latter evokes the spirit of ‘Supernatural’ (along with the Rolie-voiced ‘Leave Me Alone’).
This dovetails into the guitar jam ‘All Aboard’. Purists will bemoan that this jam is only 2 minutes long although ‘Caminando’ and ‘Echizo’ to some extent compensate with more Schon/Santana jousting to lesser or greater effect. The extended closing piece ‘Forgiveness’ seamlessly melds the two guitarists styles but meanders somewhat and is not wholly instrumental.
Elsewhere there is the attractive instrumental ballad ‘Suen Os’ which is like a more muted ‘Europa’ (a vibe continued on ‘You And I’) and ‘Blues Magic’ – with Rolie on vocals - has a hint of ‘Black Magic Woman’. There you go, I’m comparing again to former glories. On balance, there is probably enough here to interest lapsed Latin rockers and sufficient value in the generous 77 minutes.
If there is a criticism – and I suppose we are 45 years on – there is a lack of real urgency in this update (‘Shape Shifter’ might be better for that) and in particular the absence of incendiary, extended duelling from Messrs. Santana, Rolie and Schon. But, to be honest, it is a joy to hear Carlos’ guitar cut through unencumbered by mediocrity (‘Guitar Heaven’) or the strictures of a more purely Latin approach (‘Corazon’).
This could well be the soundtrack of this summer. It’s time to party like it’s 1971, incense sticks, bong and patchouli oil at the ready. But – damn it – it will never completely erase the thought of that advancing tonsure. ****
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
In June 2015 David Randall chatted to Neal Schon for his weekly radio show. In this exclusive edit, Neal chats about his early career and how Carlos Santana has inspired him over the years. (9:35)
Album review (Shape Shifter, 2012)
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