not often that an artist who played at Woodstock releases
an album in the '90s that sounds fresh and new. For that alone,
Supernatural should be commended, but what really makes
Carlos Santana's best album since the '70s so good is that
rather than resting on his classic rock fame, he has made
a brilliant and seamless transition into the '90s. Without
sounding the least bit contrived, manages to incorporate musical
styles from rock, pop, folk, R&B, and even a little rap into
his unmistakably Santana latin-rock vibe.
of course, he has done from the beginning, and thus becoming
one of the few rock artists whose popularity knows no cultural
or racial boundaries - even in today's fragmented popular
music scene, the single "Smooth" has made it onto classic
rock stations whose audience wants to hear what the man behind
"Evil Ways" is doing now, alternative stations whose listeners
dig the improvisational funk of Phish, Jamiroquai, G Love
and anything of that ilk, top 40 stations who need some mid-tempo
on their playlists, and even Spanish stations, much of whose
music is derived from Santana's influence in the first place.
"Smooth," featuring Rob Thomas on vocals, has consequently
been one of the most inescapable songs of the year, but that
doesn't detract from its quality. it's one of those songs
that creates a mood all of its own - a steamy, persistent
jam that doesn't go away, and some of the most soulful singing
and guitar playing since… well, since "Evil Ways."
while we're on the subject of guitar, it should also be noted
that Carlos Santana is often overlooked as the supremely talented
and innovative guitar player that he is, because unlike rock's
other guitar gods (Hendrix, Clapton, Page, etc…) he rarely
lets his playing overshadow the song. What's great about many
of the tracks on "Supernatural" is that he lets himself loose
a little more and shows us all what an amazing guitarist he
can be. Particularly on the mostly-instrumental tracks, like
the breakneck album-opener "Da Le Yaleo," the arena rocker
"Migra," and the more traditional sounding "Corazon Espinado"
(kind of an "Oye Como Va Part 2: Electric Boogaloo"), Santana
returns to the immaculately constructed solos of his classic
era, reviving that funk guitar sound with the slight wah-wah
flavor that influenced so much of the great rock of the '70s,
and come to think of it, the '90s as well (We'll forget about
that decade in between).
let's not overlook Santana's great use of vocalists on this
album. Apart from Thomas, he employs Lauryn Hill on the jazzy
"Do You Like the Way," Everlast on the folkish "Put Your Lights
On," Eagle-Eye Cherry on the Spanish funk piece "Wishing it
Was," and Dave Matthews on the cool and breathy "Love of My
Life." But the unity of the album does not suffer in the least
- unlike when many other artists bring modern ringers in to
help get their careers revived, Santana is still the boss
in his case. This isn't an all-star album on which Santana
happens to be playing backup on every song, it's a Santana
album which happens to have a few other people on it.
it would be asking too much to expect this album to usher
in a whole new era of cultural unity in music, but at the
very least, Santana should finally start to get recognized
as a giant on equal footing with the premier guitarists of
the rock era, and his records of the early '70s can sit alongside
Led Zeppelin 4 and Strange Brew with equal dignity.
Supernatural, believe it or not, isn't far behind.
out of 5.0