By Andrew Howie
When you’re Carlos Santana, there are certain expectations when new music is announced. His virtuosic ability and prodigious output (with and without other musicians) have been hugely famous the world over for half a century, and crowds today continue to be mesmerized by his Latin-based psychedelia, stratospheric lead work, and runaway-spaceship shredding. With the lineup of Carlos Santana (guitar, vocals), Gregg Rolie (keyboards, vocals), Neal Schon (guitar, vocals), Michael Carabello (percussion, vocals), and Michael Shrieve (drums), along with current members Karl Perazzo (percussion), Benny Rietveld (bass), and Ron Isley performing lead vocals on two tracks, the feverishly anticipated Santana IV did not disappoint.
This is big music, on more than one level. The production itself is huge; the sound is all-encompassing and heavy and the music is like a bull in a china shop. Santana just runs all over the place, soaring out into space before digging deep into the crust. The music takes you from moonlit forest fires to arena rock anthems with driving percussion, the aforementioned leads from Santana (accompanied beautifully by Schon), splashing organ runs and earth-shaking bass. The vocals on tracks like “Yambu” and “Blues Magic” are powerful as well, uplifting in their own right. My personal favorite sections come when they drop the structure and really let the jam get universal in songs like “You and I” and “Fillmore East”. Santana’s long-held love of spacey jazz improve is just excellent.
It’s tempting when an album like this comes out to heap praise on an already-famous name, but the truth here is that this is what we expect of Santana. We are prepared for his devastating ability and never-ending stream of wah-drenched fury. What I’m not sure I expected was for the whole album to have that natural, classic, “Oye Como Va” Santana sound updated for the year 2016. I can’t even imagine how this album will sound live, where the guys can really stretch out (especially on the calypso number “Come As You Are”), or epic album closer “Forgiveness”, which features some of the most riveting guitar work of the entire album.
Santana IV represents a band returning to their peak. The shifting styles, from Pink Floyd-esque cosmic jams to Weather Report jazz fusion, R&B to sludgy metal, all combined with the essential Latin percussion, is a thrill to listen to, and the band seems to be thrilled to be playing it. Hopefully they announce a whole U.S. tour, but for now I can at least listen to it over and over. If you’re a longtime fan, you’ll love it. If you’re a newcomer, you’ll be blown away. Either way, go check it out. You don’t want to miss this one.
Rating 9 out 10