Carlos Santana remains one of the most puzzling figures in American popular music. Having forged a career based on virtuosic guitar playing, replete with soaring leads and transcendent melody lines, he has, at times, been guilty of releasing music that, although popular and more often than not palatable, makes it difficult to know who the real Carlos Santana is: A spiritual soldier (see 1974’s Lotus) or an A&R department lackey (1999’s Supernatural)?
This 204-minute set from 2011 only doubles the confusion: The positively elegant “Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile)” and “Soul Sacrifice” share space with stomach-churning readings of AC/DC’s “Back In Black” (Why? Why?), “Sunshine of Your Love” and “Maria Maria”. The supporting musicians can shoulder some of the glory and some of the blame––percussionists Raul Rekow, Dennis Chambers, and Karl Perazzo are almost as important as the bandleader himself and the three men rise to the occasion (as does special guest Cindy Blackman Santana).
But vocalists Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas are often terminally bland. Vargas, in particular, has a difficult time capturing the emotional depth of many of the songs although his Spanish-language performances are above par. Special guests Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi add little in the way of full-on power but their turn is moderately amusing.
Perhaps more problematic is that this collection shows exactly what Carlos Santana can do––he can play “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen”, “Oye Como Va” and “Evil Ways” with the expertness with which he’s played them his entire career. What’s more interesting at this point is what we think he might be able to do but what we have not yet seen him do, such as team up with another choice player––Trucks would be OK, although the possible list could be endless––for some brave warrior playing as the master did in his younger days, whether with Buddy Miles or John McLaughlin.
We probably won’t see that day anytime soon, though, and our reluctant acceptance is required. Instead, we’ll have to slog through warmed over renditions of “Jingo” and “Dame Du Amor” from now until the end of the time. None of this would be particularly bad if a little more effort had gone into making the show more unique somehow, but it’s nothing more than an average Greatest Hits run from an artist who by now probably has more Greatest Hits collections than original recordings in his discography.
No one will ever rob Santana of his rightful place in rock history but it looks like we cannot depend on him to do right by his own legacy.
Bonus features include an interview with Carlos Santana, who proves that one’s spiritual life should perhaps remain private if for no other reason than it can be nearly impossible to explain, and Cindy Blackman Santana (if from nowhere else, you know her from Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way” video), as well as a behind the scenes short. As with the main material, there’s nothing here you’re going to feel robbed for not having seen.