As one of the founding pioneers of world music, and a relentless success for now almost 40 years, there remains little for Santana to achieve to add to a glittering resumé.
Recent Diamond selling work Supernatural brought the Mexican maestro closer than ever before to the mainstream throng, and with All That I Am it is clear that certain US celebrity ties have been engendered. That said, England will next win the world cup before Santana becomes wholly Americanised, and true to form there are moments of fabulous Latino grooves to be found on occasions.
The album kicks off much like any classic world music concert, with a fired up jamming session. A frenetic beat from drummer Dennis Chambers powers throughout Hermes, a piece complete with ranging dynamics and texture providing an obvious dance feel, and of course a screeching solo from the man with his name on the cover, which is received with rousing applause even on the record.
This theme of self-indulgent creation runs through into El Fuego (translating as ‘the fire’) with Santana fitting in around the vocal track with improvisation galore. Think Smooth sung in Spanish, with a dynamic backline of trumpet, trombone and congas in particular, and you won’t be far off.
As this fades out, we suddenly enter pop territory with I’m Feeling You. Michelle Branch‘s silky voice moans “sometimes I imagine a world without you” over simply strummed acoustic guitar, and with a chorus featuring heavily double-tracked and touched-up vocals, this smacks of Hollywood run-of-the-mill, uninventive dirge. Our journey continues to hip-hop world, and with My Man almost every sense of Latino soul is lost. You would be forgiven for thinking Big Boi and Mary J Blige had simply provided a B-side for Carlos to jam to here, and although the track livens up with a stupendous solo at the end, the combination of guitar and vocals spectacularly fails to work.
A much needed-pickup arrives in Just Feel Better, a song that works effortlessly as guitarist and vocalist take turns to come to the fore. The quality of Steven Tyler‘s voice radiates, as he appears to feed off a rousing instrumental track to push his talents to the limit.
I Am Somebody, featuring Black Eyed Peas‘ Will I Am, is possibly the best of the album’s collaborations, with a joyous rumba rhythm showing where the band’s best abilities lie. Not being dominated by any one individual, this track proves much easier to digest, with chanting chorus “I Am Somebody” proving particularly memorable.
There is an inescapable sense that musicians must rejoice in collaborating with Santana, due to the free reign they are given. Evidence of this is Trinity, featuring Kirk Hammett, which sounds just like a Metallica epic, and Cry Baby Cry, which could fit easily into any of Sean Paul‘s Caribbean back-catalogue. The sound here incidentally fits very smoothly with Santana’s worldly vibe, and I would see this as a good bet for the debut single.
A strong finish is provided with the final tracks concerning themselves with hot-blooded affection, the smoothly crooned pop effort of Brown Skin Girl and the impassioned harmonies of Los Lonely Boys in I Don’t Wana Lose Your Love fit seamlessly with the loving caress that Santana administers to his instrument. Tu Amor finishes the album as it began, with full worldly rhythm and vibrance being restored, a strong group of vocalists expressing, almost gospel-like, the words of the song’s title.
Perhaps not what you would expect in places, this album shows an old master to be continually pushing and re-adapting the sound to which he can flourish. Regardless of what works, there will surely be a queue of volunteer collaborators when the next recording comes along.
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