Music

Santana: Santana III (Legacy Edition)

Daniel Spicer

Vintage, high-energy, Latino psych-jazz-rock still sounds good 35 years on. Now, how do you suppose percussionist Thomas "Coke" Escovedo got his nickname?


Santana

Santana III (Legacy Edition)

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2006-02-21
UK Release Date: 2006-04-03
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Perhaps it's easy to forget just what Santana used to represent back in the late '60s and early '70s. Way back before Carlos became a Grammy-winning AOR elder-statesman, back even before his adventures in Eastern spirituality, taking the name Devadip and collaborating with Mahavishnu John McLaughlin and Turiya Alice Coltrane, turning out astral jazz-rock masterpieces in praise of the guru Sri Chimnoy -- back before all of this, Santana was a band.

Get it straight, though, we're not talking about one of today's stage-school confections of fame-hungry pups. This band was tough, more like a gang than a pop group: hirsute, bare-chested, testosterone-fuelled, drug-loving and -- most unusual for the times -- multi-racial. Damn, they looked (and sounded) dangerous! As Bill Graham describes them, introducing the concert that makes up the second disc of this legacy re-release of Santana III, this was "the sounds from the streets."

And, of course, they were hip. After bursting onto the scene with their legendary mescaline-crazed performance at Woodstock in '69, they were the counterculture's party band of choice. No wonder, then, that this live disc captures them as the headline act on the last night at that arch hippie-nexus, the original Filmore West, on July 4th, 1971. They were there to tear the house down and, on the evidence of this previously unissued archival recording, that's exactly what they did.

In what many consider to be the band's most exciting line up, Carlos is joined in the frontline by the 15-year old wunderkind Neal Schon on guitar, and Gregg Rolie on Hammond organ, with David Brown holding down a heavy bass. But, of course, what really makes it fly is the formidable percussion section of Michael Shrieve of drums, Jose Chepito Areas on timbales and congas, Michael P.R. Carabello on congas, and Thomas "Coke" Escovedo on back-up percussion.

Blazing through most of Santana III, and throwing in tight versions of classics like "Black Magic Woman", "Gypsy Queen", and "Incident at Neshabur", they're clearly on fire and loving every minute of it. What makes this disc indispensable to fans and musicologists, though, is a take on Miles Davis's "In a Silent Way" that begins with the fragile opening refrain picked out on guitar, before diving into a rumbling bass groove. All of this sets the table for some stratospheric three-way soloing from Santana, Schon, and Rolie. Of course, it's great fun but it's also a fascinating snapshot of the tumultuous musical melting-pot of the times, with funk influencing rock influencing jazz influencing soul. Sure, Carlos is acknowledging his debt to Miles and the early jazz-rock templates of In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, but there's also a sense that he's making plain Miles's own appropriation of the kind of blistering rock moves that Santana helped to bring into being -- brought full circle a few years later when Carlos worked with John McLaughlin, the British guitar legend who gave Miles's early '70s albums so much of their incendiary spark.

With this gig being the final act on the closing night of the Filmore, there's a sense of an era coming to a close: the end of the 1960s, harsh political realities, and continued war in South East Asia all taking some of the gleam off of the hippie dream. And, in its own way, the album Santana III represents something of a swansong. Shortly after its release, over-touring, mismanagement, and musical differences led to the break-up of this first incarnation of Santana. Thankfully, this -- their last recording together -- catches them at the height of their powers. The singles "No One to Depend On" and "Everything's Coming Our Way" are classic Latino soul, but "Jungle Strut" is the freshest sounding cut on the album. A Gene Ammons soul-jazz sax boiler, irresistibly propelled here by super-tight percussion and no-holds-barred solos from the three man front line -- with Rolie's Hammond organ sounding especially alive.

For the Santana scholar, though, the bonus cuts on this disc will undoubtedly be of the most interest. "Gumbo" is an up-tempo live favorite that blends Sly Stone with Dr. John; "Folsom Street One" is a previously unheard jazzy groove that points towards later fusion experiments; and "Bambeye" is a 10-minute percussion workout that highlights the power of the band's psychedelic Tito Puente mutation.

There's so much to enjoy here, if only you can turn back the tide of history, get into context, and make like it's 1971. Viva Santana!

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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