Thursday, September 16, 2010

Albums2010 #25-26: Abraxas and Supernatural

Hendrix, Clapton, Knopfler- we can't listen to 100 albums and talk about Guitar Badasses without including Carlos Santana somewhere very high up on the list and nowhere are Santana's incredible talents with the guitar on better display than with his albums Abraxas and Supernatural.

A quick note: there's about a thirty year gap between these two albums that excludes a huge chunk of Sanatana discography that's worth exploring, if you dig his music. I didn't know this, but a quick glance at wikipedia (the font of all knowledge) reveals that Santana didn't just vanish for 30 years between Abraxas and his amazing Top 40 comeback 'Smooth'- he did a lot of work with jazz fusion sounds and had been out there rockin' out this whole time. So kudos to him for that!

Abraxas is just start to finish a good album. Latin, jazz and blues influences are all on fine display here, from the opening instrumental 'Singing Winds, Crying Beasts' to the Tito Puente classic 'Oye Como Va' Santana makes a name for himself, his guitar work so complex, it almost seems to be vocalizing in a strangely perfect counterpoint to the melodies of his songs. Over all, this is a classic, mellow trip and if you're a music lover, this is a 'must-have' for any serious lover of rock n'roll. It's hard to say what the real standout tracks are on this album are. Everyone probably knows 'Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen' and 'Oye Como Va' but the mournful 'Samba Pa Ti' and the more traditional blues number 'Mother's Daughter' also caught my attention. In short, this album is a great mix of influences and styles all rolled up into one neat little package. Latin rubs shoulders with jazz, rock and blues and instrumental pieces do battle with more traditional rock numbers. Their now legendary set at Woodstock, combined with this breakout album put Santana on the map- and it stands the test of time extremely well, which isn't something you can say about every single album out there.

Supernatural, however provides an interesting contrast that's still having repercussions in the music industry today. Although Santana continued to put out albums well into the 80s, by the mid-90s, he seemed to have reached a nadir in his fortunes and it was at the suggestion of Clive Davis, longtime record mogul that he structured this album around collaborations with hot young artists like Dave Matthews, Lauryn Hill, Everlast, Rob Thomas and others and the results provided him with his biggest commercial success in years and one of the last number one singles of the 1990s with his collaboration with Rob Thomas on the hit single 'Smooth.' (Coincidentally, it's also a really good album too.) I remember the first time I heard 'Smooth' on the radio (I'm thinking it was Q103, but it may have changed back to Z102.9 by then) and it sort of blew my mind. It was catchy, the guitar hook was amazing and there was that sexy cha-cha strut that ran throughout the whole damn song. And then I learned it was Santana and Rob Thomas and I was both shocked and pleasantly surprised! Santana was back on the radio! Santana had been someone, up until that point that my parents listened too. He wasn't hip. He wasn't cool. He was old school- and there wasn't anything wrong with that- but suddenly he was everywhere and he was cool again. He cleaned up at the Grammies with this album and seemed to spark a new wave of collaboration that we're still seeing to this day. (Though mainly it's everyone wanting to work with Timbaland.)

But Supernatural: from the opening track 'Da Le Yaleo' to the hits from the album 'Maria, Maria' and 'Smooth' Santana works his magic with the likes of Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, Dave Matthews, Eric Clapton, Mana, Eagle Eyed-Cherry and Everlast amongst others, this album flies by and bops along to a variety of beats and grooves that seem truly magical at some points. My personal favorites from this album: 'Da Le Yaleo', 'Smooth', and 'Corazon Espinado', Mana's excellent contribution to Supernatural's success.

Overall, Abraxas is a classic and Supernatural is probably the best comeback in rock n'roll history, hands down. Whether you prefer the old school or are hip to the newer album, both underline the important point: Carlos Santana earned his place amongst the guitar greats of rock n'roll and shows no sign of losing his touch anytime soon.

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