Release Date: Apr 15, 2016
Record label: Santana IV Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Latin Rock, Guitar Virtuoso, Retro-Rock
Santana connoisseurs invariably regard the group’s 1971 LP, Santana III, as the absolute zenith of their recorded work. Sadly, the personnel that cut that particular album – which featured a then-15-year-old and future Journey man, Neal Schon, on rhythm guitar – split soon afterwards. Now, though, Carlos Santana has put the classic ’71 line-up back together.
Review Summary: After 45 years, most of the original members reunited to create a proper follow-up to III…Any true Santana fan must be aware of the fact that after Caravanserai was released all the way back in 1972, his career went downhill. Every decade or so, a better album would surface, however, nothing ever came close to the highly influential, career defining self-titled debut, Abraxas & III. Those had such an energy, combining blues guitar-enhanced Afro-Latin grooves, powerful percussion, along with all those trademark solos, you couldn’t possibly ask for more.
At over 75 minutes, Santana IV would have benefitted greatly from judicious editing. There is filler here: the classic rock-styled blues raveup in "Choo Choo," the horn-drenched boogie of "Caiminando," the tired, Shaman-esque "Leave Me Alone," and the new agey, smooth jazz-blues fusion of "Leave Me Alone," all feel like they are ideas rather than finished songs. Flaws aside, IV is quite enjoyable -- especially split over a couple of listens.
Santana IV is a canny title for this deja vu. The album reunites most of the Woodstock-'69 Santana – founding guitarist Carlos Santana, drummer Michael Shrieve, singer-organist Gregg Rolie and percussionist Michael Carabello – with guitarist Neal Schon, a teenage prodigy when he joined in time for the third album, 1971's Santana. That record's focused advance on conga-fired soul and jazz, cut short by the group's implosion, is vigorously reprised here.
The concept of the classic lineup reunion is now a firmly entrenched, well-worn trope that many legacy acts use as a method to goose up publicity and hopefully book bigger and better venues out on the road. It’s almost like the rock and roll 401k plan. This year, Guns N’ Roses and LCD Soundsystem are the biggest examples, but it’s far less common to see a band reunite for the strict purpose of making an entirely new record.
Clutching at hits didn’t suit the guitarist Carlos Santana, even when he got them. On albums featuring one guest singer after another, with production geared toward airplay and credits filled with collaborators and song doctors, his guitar started to sound cornered — so much so that he allowed himself an almost entirely instrumental album, “Shape Shifter,” in 2012, before making a Spanish-language album full of guests, “Corazón,” in 2014. He finds another promising comfort zone, with songs this time, on “Santana IV.” The title treats “Santana IV” as a sequel to “Santana III,” released in 1971, the last album, until now, that Mr.
Carlos and the reunited early line-up pick up where they left off 40 years ago. Since they stole the show as virtual unknowns at the Woodstock festival in 1969 with a stage-shaking delivery of Soul Sacrifice, Santana – and in particularly guitarist Carlos Santana, the group’s only ever-present member – have travelled a remarkably varied musical path over the past 45 years, on more than 20 studio albums that between them have collected a raft of gold and platinum awards. After bursting onto the scene with the glorious and irresistibly rhythmic Afro-Latin rock hybrid of their first three albums, Santana (with numerous, ever-changing line-ups) have variously dabbled in soul, blues, jazz and rock in various permutations, without ever fully jettisoning the signature Latin feel that has percolated through it all.
Classic-rock reunions are often a question mark: a point illustrated by the return of this early ’70s Santana lineup. In the liner notes, Carlos Santana writes that he felt “a higher calling to reunite the molecules of the original band.” He’s right when it comes to the adrenaline added by guitarist Neal Schon, who’d gone on to form Journey. But there’s a strange disconnect between spiritually infused Latin-rock jams that rightly invoke this group’s heyday and songs burdened with tawdry, testosterone-filled lyrics from singer-keyboardist Gregg Rolie (another Journey founder), who plunges to embarrassing depths on “Anywhere You Want to Go” (“hey baby, what’s your name, come on over .