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Salvador Santana

Keyboard City

(Quannum Projects; US: 2 Feb 2010; UK: 2 Feb 2010)

Ziggy Marley. Jakob Dylan. Rufus Wainwright. Charlotte Gainsbourg.


Sometimes, musical talent just runs in the genes. Other times, it simply boils down to dedication, fearlessness, or just plain old luck. Point is: you can’t just expect to be diagnosed a musical prodigy simply because of family history. For every Norah Jones, there’s a Julian Lennon. For every Jeff Buckley, a Kelly Osborne.


You really can’t blame these people. Picture yourself as the son or daughter of a successful, legendary musician – it’d be hard not to give the music biz a hardy college try, more or less out of pure curiosity. Enter: Salvador Santana. His daddy is, you guessed it, Carlos, the legendary Latin soul/fusion guitarist with the band bearing his last name. However, as the title Keyboard City suggests, Salvador has a different weapon of choice, even though his papa’s lineage of boiling Latin funk and sizzling jazz-tinged groove still flows plentifully in the proceedings.


Indeed, the funk cup runneth over on Keyboard City, but Santana doesn’t make a mess. Kid wasn’t fooling around about that title, either – this is a metropolis of churning Hammond B-3, rolling gospel piano, warm bath Wurlitzer, and kaleidoscopic synthesizers. Money Mark, the album’s co-writer/co-producer, even throws down on a sine wave generator (pause for Googling).


“Wait, though… have I heard that name before?” 


You have. Money Mark’s the dude who contributed that infamous organ loop in Beck’s “Where It’s At” along with providing tons of keyboards for the Beastie Boys in their prime (“So What’cha Want?”, anyone?)  According to the album’s accompanying press release, Santana first entered Money’s studio to find a plethora of tricked-out keyboard toys of all shapes and sizes – synths crawling out of every crevice, organs at every turn. It was almost like being in a…Keyboard City. He came up with the title, so he says, just from physically being in this space. The two struck up a collaboration, and the album followed suit.


The keyboards are the strongest selling point here. Santana plays most of them himself (despite a keyboard or two on various tracks, Mark’s contributions are mostly on bass and guitar). Santana also proves to be a capable multi-instrumentalist, laying down solid grooves with his own bass and drum kit tracks to go along with the orgy of keys in every pocket of sound. What keeps this album from living up to the obvious potential on display is easily found in the pages of the gaudy, over-the-top, tropically designed packaging.


I’m talking about the lyrics. And boy, oh, boy, does Santana really pen some doozies. It’s hard to remember the last time I actually cringed during a song simply because of its words, and unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident on Keyboard City.


Contenders for “Most Offensively Terrible Lyric” are as widespread as the keyboards in Money Mark’s studio. “Under the Sun” features the line “I had a conversation just the other day / Made me think a little on what I want to say / Have the motivation, all the dedication, the real situation / We’re here for celebration.”  Ouch. What’s worse is that Santana delivers the line in what becomes his trademark vocal style: undeserved LA swagger smothered with wholesome cheese. You can’t get away with a line like that unless you’re in Earth, Wind, & Fire, and I don’t see that happening for Salvador any time soon.


Oh, there are more. “Salaboutmoney”, a bluesy chant with generic guest vocals, is about as horrific as the title suggests. As you may have gathered, the song is “alaboutmoney”, which, naturally, is followed by the poetic, “Word to yo momma!”  Sigh. My “favorite” offender, though, comes in the somehow-still-effective brag launching pad “Don’t Do It”, which sports the line “My front door’s open in case ya cop an attitude!”  I’m sorry, Salvador, but I don’t think you’re going to have anyone running from your front door in fear…or for that matter, anyone to beef with in the first place.


Luckily, for every lyrical abortion, Santana slaps on his family crest and lays down a truly funky synth squiggle or organ blast. The guy can really play. He clearly has the determination and fearlessness necessary to make it out of his father’s still-rather-large musical shadow, and it seems like, at the end of the day, he knows the way there.


The title track is a true highlight. With its tasty chord progression, jazzy acoustic piano and flat-out nasty B-3 solo, Santana delivers the instrumental goods with full force and creativity. He handles a vocoder with expert precision, too (it seems like no one does that well these days), and yeah, it doesn’t hurt that the effect manages to distort the lyrics, which, honestly, aren’t much better than the others. Whatever he’s saying here, it really doesn’t matter – you’ll be won over by the groove in a heartbeat.


Further examples elicit similar descriptions. You basically have the gist: a truly great instrumental work with absolutely atrocious lyrics. It’s a shame it doesn’t fully work, but, hey, don’t feel sorry for him; he seems to be enjoying himself: “Come to my city / We can all get silly / That’s what’s the dilly in the Hollywood hilly / Where it’s all goin’ down / Party people gather ‘round / People gather round when they hear my sound / When they hear my sound, mean it’s all goin’ down.”


Sigh. That crazy Salvador! 


You have to give him credit for not sticking his dad’s name on the cover. And I mean that with absolute sincerity. Plus, I have hope for his future musical career. This isn’t a man riding his famous musician father’s coattails. He has a real gift – and maybe next time, we’ll get that instrumental funk masterpiece he honestly has the potential to deliver.


Ultimately, Salvador Santana speaks his loudest with his mouth shut.

Rating:

Ryan Reed is an Adjunct English Professor, English Department Graduate Assistant, and freelance music critic/journalist with degrees in English and Journalism. In addition to serving as an Associate Music Editor/Music Writer with PopMatters, he contributes reviews, feature stories, and other work to Billboard, Paste, American Songwriter, Boston Phoenix, Relix, Blurt, Metro Pulse, Cleveland Scene, and a handful of others. If you want to contact him for any reason, send an e-mail to rreed6128[at]hotmail.com.


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28 Jul 2010
A man of his times, Salvador Santana's sound has a difficult-to-quantify coolness that attracts his Generation Y peers, yet its gentle chug-chug beats aren't likely to alienate older Gen Xers or even their Boomer parents. He talks to PopMatters about his latest album, his self-image as an artist, and the indirect influences his famous father has had on his musical journey.
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