Release Date: May 15, 2012
Record label: Starfaith
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Arena Rock, Latin Rock, Instrumental Rock, Guitar Virtuoso
As he proved in 1969 with "Soul Sacrifice" and frequently thereafter, Carlos Santana doesn't need lyrics to make eloquent music. This largely instrumental debut release on his own label has moments of shit-hot playing (see the smeared runs on "Metatron"). But the arrangements, oversweetened with too many synthesizers, lean toward lite jazz. Maybe fellow Latin-rock visionaries the Mars Volta could sign on for Volume Two? Listen to 'Shape Shifter': Related• Photos: Random Notes .
While 1999's best-selling Supernatural brought Carlos Santana many new listeners, Shaman followed the same formula -- pairing his guitar with pop vocalists -- with diminishing returns. Santana tries to undo the damage on Shape Shifter, the debut from his Starfaith label. All but one of these 13 cuts is an instrumental. Producing and co-producing every track, he tries reinvention toward what he has always believed himself to be: an innovative and exploratory guitarist.
The veteran guitarist’s 36th album is a predominantly instrumental set that tries too hard to do too much over its hour long length. It includes everything from “Europa” styled pieces (“In the Light of a New Day”), the American Indian influenced title track and by-the-numbers hard rocking in “Nomad,” but is most successful when the congas finally appear on the acoustic “Mr. Szabo.” The disc is as slick and polished as his upcoming two year Vegas residency implies.
Carlos Santana remains an anomaly among the pantheon of classic rock guitar gods he so eminently occupies (and not only because he owns a brand of women’s shoes and an established Mexican restaurant chain). Unlike Page, Clapton or Iommi, Santana never exactly had solid songs or a solid band (for all intents and purposes, Santana is a solo moniker) there to buttress his axe-wielding, however innovative and technically flawless it might be on its own. Even the Santana records that are today regarded as classics feel a little insufficient for the particular reason that, as a composer, Santana has never quite had it going on, which may explain why his largest successes over the years have been either collaborations with other, more pop-minded artists, or rearranged cover versions of songs somebody else has written.