Arista Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Carlos Santana should be bowing down and kissing Ricky Martin's ass right about now. You see, had it not been for artists like Martin, Enrique Iglesias and Marc Anthony, the music scene would not be enjoying the explosion of Latin-flavored music on the charts, and Santana's latest disc Supernatural would probably be lingering in the lower half of the Billboard charts instead of threatening for the top slot.

Carlos Santana has continued doing the same thing for almost his entire career -- that is, he's tried to fuse Latin rhythms with the power of rock and electric guitar. Sometimes, he's succeeded ("Oye Como Va," "Black Magic Woman" -- the latter a Fleetwood Mac cover), other times he's fallen either on deaf ears or his own musical ego. Even a few attempts to move strictly pop ("Winning," "Hold On") haven't won Santana the praise he experienced earlier in his career.

Supernatural happens to be the album in the right place at the right time. Riding on the heels of the latest musical trend, and ditching the label that was his home since th beginning of his career, Santana was given the chance to revive his career with a more favorable musical atmosphere. And while it works, I can't help but think that Santana's succeeding on retreads and superstar help.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The hit single that you can't get away from, "Smooth," is an example of this. Recruiting Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas to do the vocals helps get the attention of the alternative crowd, and while this song is pretty good, it really does get on one's nerves after hearing it for the 50th time in the span of three hours.

In fact, Santana seems to give props to the entire alternative crowd on Supernatural, recruiting people like Everlast ("Put Your Lights On"), Dave Matthews ("Love Of My Life") and Eagle-Eye Cherry ("Wishing It Was") to take their turns behind the microphone. But you have to hand it to Santana, 'cause all these combinations work well (though Matthews does sound a little lost in the material). Santana wisely takes a back seat musically to Everlast and his acoustic guitar on "Put Your Lights On"; doing this makes the track work the best.

Santana also courts the hip-hop crowd, working with Lauryn Hill ("Do You Like The Way") and production tasks of Wyclef Jean ("Maria Maria," featuring vocals by The Product G&B). Regrettably, these tracks seem to suggest that Santana is desparate to capture a new audience, and the mixtures do not go that well. On "Maria Maria," I didn't like the way that Santana was worked into the song itself: "She fell in love in East L.A. / To the sounds of a guitar, yeah, yeah / Played by Carlos Santana." Hey, Devadip, we know who's playin' on the album -- your name's on the jacket. Isn't that enough?

Lest anyone think that Santana has forgotten his Latin roots, Supernatural espouses them on tracks like "(Da Le) Yaleo," "Migra," "Corazon Espinado" (featuring vocals by Mana) and "Primavera." Much to my surprise, these are the tracks that work the best; they're the ones that keep Santana in a more natural setting, where he can do his magic.

The final "listed" track (not counting the bonus, unlisted cut) with Eric Clapton, "The Calling," works well; I like the way that you can't always tell who's playing which solo. But I would have left all vocals off this track and let the two guitars lull the listener into a new dimension.

Supernatural probably won't shock old-school Santana fans, 'cause there's enough of a throwback to the early days that will keep their level of comfort up. New fans will undoubtedly be pulled in by the alternative rock guests. It's not a bad album in any sense of the word, but one wonders if Santana will be able to keep the momentum going -- and keep the fan base he's winning with this album.

Rating: B-

User Rating: A-



© 1999 Christopher Thelen 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 Arista Records, and is used for informational purposes only.