Album of the Week 15-2016: Santana – IV

While Santana the man hasn’t ever really been away, ‘IV’ is definitely the comeback of Santana the band. The first real Santana album since their untitled third record from 1970 or maybe, if you’re being lenient, ‘Caravanserai’ (1972). What apparently started as Journey guitarist Neal Schon stalking Carlos Santana has turned into a full-fledged reunion of all but one of the surviving band members from the 1970 lineup and they’re not being subtle about it. Just look at that beautiful album cover. If that doesn’t breathe the atmosphere that fans of the original band have been craving for years, I don’t know what does.

‘IV’ isn’t a full throwback, however. Sure, it is the first time in years that Carlos Santana sinks his teeth into the band’s exciting and highly original combination of psychedelic Rock, Blues and Latin. There’s wild lead guitars and percussion augmenting the drums. But at the same time, this is something fresh. Santana never sounded this Funky and modern production techniques allow for a brighter polish this time around. Also, the guitarists have a much more pronounced sound than they had in the past: Schon’s beefy Arena Rock sound provides a perfect contrast to Santana’s trademark sharp, yet smooth tone.

Most of the album sounds like the material was born out of spontaneous jam sessions. Not just because the band members themselves have pointed out this spontaneity in interviews – if anything, that could be a reason to be suspicious – but the songs sound alive and energetic, while it does feel like the musicians are moving along with each other when there are shifts in dynamics or intensity. Nonetheless, it’s obvious that quite a lot of time has been spent on the production, especially on the relatively modern sounding ‘Choo Choo’ and anything that is lead by Gregg Rolie’s vocals.

Generally, I prefer the less direct and accessible songs on the record. The long tracks ‘Fillmore East’ and ‘Forgiveness’ highlight the band’s psychedelic, almost jazzy side of the band with amazing lead guitar work by both Schon and Rolie, the appropriately titled ‘Sueños’ (“dreams”) features Santana’s beautiful work on the nylon string acoustic guitar front and center, ‘Echizo’ is a remarkably well-written instrumental and the strongly Afro-Caribbean opening track ‘Yambu’ feels like it was meant as an intro track, but quickly proves to be possibly the best composition on the record. Whatever your take on the track, it sets the mood for ‘IV’ perfectly.

Anyone who enjoyed ‘Abraxas’ and the two self-titled Santana albums would do himself a favor by checking out ‘IV’. As mentioned before, it’s not a complete copy of the old Santana sound, but it’s as close as it gets and that slightly more contemporary edge to the recordings gives the album a relevance beyond nostalgia. Everyone is simply in top form here, with special mentions going to – naturally – the guitar duo and Gregg Rolie, who manages to keep the band grounded. My only criticism would be that the album could have a little of its fat trimmed, but don’t let that keep you from enjoying ‘IV’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Yambu’, ‘Echizo’, ‘Fillmore East’

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