Good things come to those who wait nearly a half century.
What's this? A new Santana album with (most of) the original classic early '70s lineup? No one could have ever predicted this. Moments like these only happen once in a lifetime, and in this case it's been upwards of around 45 years in the making. The last time Carlos Santana, Neal Schon (guitar, vocals), Gregg Rolie (keyboards, lead vocals), Michael Carabello (percussion) and Michael Shrieve (drums) recorded together under one roof was back in 1971/1972 on the Santana III release. These guys were considered some of the best musicians in the world back in those days, and they already had two platinum records under their belt (Santana (1969) and Abraxas (1970). During the four-and-a-half decades apart, Carlos Santana kept on releasing albums under the Santana moniker (albeit with different musicians), Schon and Rolie joined forces in Journey, and both Carabello and Shrieve focused on other individual musical projects. Now, everything has come full circle, and the veteran quintet have come together once again to give it a second go.
The beginning of the story goes back some three years, to a meeting of the minds. Truth be told, none of this would have ever come to fruition had it not been for Schon propositioning Carlos Santana to record something new together. Santana agreed and had a suggestion of his own: to get Rolie, Carabello and Shrieve onboard as well. Lightning definitely struck twice, and with writing and rehearsals completed in 2013, the band completed the recording sessions for Santana IV over the next two years. The result? Well, let's put it this way: if you've set your expectations high, you will be quite pleased.
Suffice it to say that Santana IV is everything we could have hoped for it to be, and much more. It boasts a total of 16 diverse tracks and is loaded with all the staple elements you would expect to find on an authentic Santana release. Afro-Cuban rhythms; Latin-inspired hooks; B3 organ vibes; soulful, uplifting vocals; bluesy, Rock-infused guitar riffs/solos; it's all here. This is the stuff Santana are made of! The lead single, Anywhere You Want to Go, is a feel-good tune that incorporates all the aforementioned ingredients, and could easily be a second cousin to Oye Como Va. Shake It is an ambitious, bombastic trip into rhythm city with plenty of duelling guitars, quaking percussion and intelligent Latin undertones. Both Choo Choo and All Aboard keep the same steady pace throughout, but the first takes a little different stylistic direction with its catchy grooves and happy vocal lines. On the other hand, All Aboard is a purely instrumental track featuring Carlos and Schon trading off licks from all directions. Similarly, Echizo sees the two guitarists feeding off each other in fine fashion, but the backbone rhythm takes it up a few notches to make it sound more sophisticated.
The Making of Santana IV
Another dance with déja vu presents itself in the fantastic Leave Me Alone, which sounds a lot like Evil Ways in both tone and tempo, plus the use of that trusty guiro gives the song that extra bit of finesse. Two more not to miss out on are the Latin-filled rocker Love Makes the World Go Round and the very funky Freedom in Your Mind -- both featuring Ronald Isley of The Isley Brothers. The 74 year-old singer really gives these songs character.
Santana also do not shy away from their love of melody in slower tracks like the beautiful half acoustic/half electric instrumental Sueños, and the soulful You and I. One of the most notable highlights of this album is the outstanding teamwork between Carlos and Schon. Their chemistry is undeniable and each of the songs -- not just the slower ones -- are better for it. Perhaps the best display of such prowess is heard in the beautiful, yet haunting atmospheric closer Forgiveness.
As much of a winner Santana IV turns out to be, it could have potentially backfired. How so? Well, Carlos Santana might have reluctantly started working with Schon again with high hopes, only to find out that too much time had passed and "it" just wasn't there anymore. Or the other three members could have said "no" to a reunion, and that would have left Santana and Schon with the arduous task of finding other musicians -- which would have surely not been a problem-- to complete the project. The key factor here is chemistry. That's exactly what this band has, and it's the core reason which makes Santana IV such a phenomenal achievement. Santana have found their magic again, and that should inspire you to give this a real good listen.
Images courtesy of Santana, Thirty Tigers and Sony Music.