Rain Dance

Gregg Rolie Band

Independent release, 2009


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Woodstock was many different things to many different people.  For an emerging band from San Francisco called Santana with a uniquely Latin-tinged rock sound, it was an unofficial coming-out party.  Buoyed by their memorable performances there of early classics like “Jingo” and “Soul Sacrifice,” the band would go on to issue four albums featuring original lead vocalist and keyboard player Gregg Rolie before experiencing the first of the lineup shuffles that have persisted for 37 years since.

Rolie would go on to co-found Journey with Santana compatriot Neal Schon before striking out on his own in 1980.  Forty years and several solo albums after Woodstock, Rain Dance features Gregg Rolie back in his original element, playing the songs of Santana, plus a few originals, with a band that recreates the sound of the 1969 lineup with at-times eerie precision.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And why wouldn’t they?  Besides lead voice and organist Rolie, the Rain Dance edition of the Gregg Rolie Band features Michael Carabello (congas) from the original Santana band, Adrian Areas (timbales), son of original Santana percussionist Jose “Chepito” Areas, and Alphonse Johnson (bass), a member of Santana in the 1980s.  Rounding out the seven-strong lineup – and playing their parts with great affection and gusto – are Kurt Griffey (guitars), Wally Minko (keys) and Ron Wikso (drums).

From the opening notes of “Jingo,” it’s apparent this disc is going to be a joy to listen to.  Half these guys played these songs in Santana, and the other half grew up loving them, and it shows on every track.  When they tear into “No One To Depend On,” it’s simply transporting to anyone familiar with the original; they don’t just nail it, they elevate and spike it like a football in the end zone. 

The band taps directly into the white-hot core of explosive numbers like "Soul Sacrifice" and "Black Magic Woman," and when they drop directly from the frenetic finish of "Gypsy Queen" into the multilayered percussive opening of "Oye Como Va," the crowd erupts -- as it should.  Rolie also throws in a quartet of solo originals, all of them solid, with special praise for “Going Home” and the closing "Bailamos El Son," both fresh takes on the Latin-flavored rock Rolie helped to popularize back in the day.

The guy with the hardest job out there -- Kurt Griffey, playing Carlos's immortal guitar lines -- acquits himself admirably, wrenching Santana-like sustain out of his six-string in all the right places while adding just enough flair to those familiar guitar lines to give them his own stamp without becoming a distraction.

Four decades after Santana's upstate New York coming-out party, Rolie has come full circle.  These are classic tunes played with great emotion and enthusiasm by a group of musicians that knows them intimately.  Rain Dance is not just a pleasure, but a triumph for a man whose place in rock and roll history has long since been assured.

Rating: A-

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© 2009 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Independent release, and is used for informational purposes only.