Recreating the classics

Guitar icon Carlos Santana released his 23rd studio album on Friday, but it was only the fourth album of the Woodstock lineup band that helped cement the Santana name into music history.

Here is the problem: this is a legendary band that is putting out an album decades after their hay day.

Usually this is a recipe for a poor album and a poorly justified reunion tour, a fate suffered by bands like AC/DC and Van Halen.

But with Carlos Santana, there is hope that a rock ‘n’ roll train wreck will be avoided.

Santana has always been a little different, similar with the San Francisco scene in the late 60’s that he helped define. Just as Vienna was the hub of art and music in the classical era of music, San Francisco in the 60’s produced names like Santana and the Grateful Dead, creating a musical revolution.

Throughout his career, his blending of Latin, African, Jazz and countless other influences has set him apart from other guitarists and made his music truly unique.

With this in mind, I was excited to hear Santana IV.

The big news was that the early ‘70s lineup was back together. The chemistry that produced the rock standards like “Black Magic Woman” and “Evil Ways” have come back and released a 16 track album that they found worthy to dub “Santana IV.”

Just by looking at the track listing and seeing there are 16 songs and not seven or eight speaks to me. There is more at work here than a band releasing songs they never got around to recording back in the day.

It also shows me that the group was able to go into the studio and agree “let’s keep going” after a dozen songs.

The album opens with “Yambu” which left me feeling longing for a guitar solo. I think the lack of guitar shredding was strategic here, because the next two songs have killer solos.

Hearing them was like finally eating that cheeseburger you have been craving after a hard week. Just perfection. The same description I and guitarists around the world would use to describe the tone of Santana’s guitar.

His signature pairing of a Paul Reed Smith guitar through a Messa Boogie amp is also just as legendary.

Speaking of legends, one of my favorite songs on the album is “Fillmore East,” named after one of the most famous venues in rock music. The song makes me think of a trip through the desert and makes me wonder how many times this band has played the tune live, jamming on and on, and not even naming the song until recently.

“There’s Magic In The Blues” and “Come As You Are” are also high points on the album, but both represent one side to the argument for what I find unappealing about Santana IV. The lyrics of this album are either great or cheesy.

“Come As You Are” may feel like a swipe from Nirvana’s first album, but I feel as if they are lyrics that are broad and engaging, almost as if they are deep enough to transcend the claim they are simply copied.

“There’s Magic In The Blues” are lyrics I love for their portrayal of the sound that is Santana.

There are some songs I felt the lyrics seemed almost lazy, however. “Love Makes The World Go Round” for instance, seemed too easy. I understand the message, and Santana means it, but I would have appreciated some more diversity in conveying that idea.

Then, in “Caminando” the song reaches its climax on the lyrics “Let it roll, let it roll.” I took a moment after this to make sure I was listening to Santana here and not The Door’s “Roadhouse Blues.”

Again, I think the band could have taken a few minutes and thought of something fresher to say.

Besides these lyrical issues, there are great things to be said for the album and Carlos Santana, even more than 50 years into his career.

I do not know if this or anything Santana will produce can eclipse his masterpieces of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but I would not be surprised to see this as a contender for rock album of the year in 10 months.