In the case of Carlos Santana, apparently you can’t teach an old guitarist new tricks.
The bandleader tries yet again to repeat his comeback success of six years ago with the latest Santana release, All That I Am (Arista). The 1999 disc Supernatural gave him renewed commercial and critical success, thanks to collaborations with hot contemporary acts (most notably Rob Thomas, who sang the monster hit “Smooth”), and he followed it up with 2001’s Shaman, which featured the pop hit “The Game of Love,” sung by Michelle Branch.
Continuing that formula, All That I Am, produced by Clive Davis, brings Santana together with a smattering of big names from rock, pop, hip-hop and R&B, including Branch, Anthony Hamilton, Joss Stone, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Mary J. Blige, Big Boi of OutKast and will.I.am of The Black Eyed Peas.
The problem is that the styles of music, vocals and Santana’s guitar playing clash horribly. His guitar solos sound all too familiar and take away from some outstanding vocals. This is most evident on tracks like “I’m Feeling You,” with Branch and the Wreckers. Branch’s vocals are completely overshadowed by the same repetitive guitar fills, undermining the poppy arrangement.
Santana repeats his mistakes on “My Man,” featuring Big Boi and Blige, and on “Twisted,” with Hamilton. Ruining what could be superb mixes of hip-hop and R&B, the guitar playing is uninspiring and adds nothing to the songs. It appears as if Santana is just trying to remind the listener he is present on these tracks.
Santana does get it right with Tyler on “Just Feel Better” and with will.I.am on “I Am Somebody.” The guitarist allows the time and space needed to make these tracks work; his playing takes nothing away from Tyler’s reliable gritty vocals, nor does it intrude on a nice mix of Latin and hip-hop flavor from will.I.am.
The most intriguing track joins Santana with Los Lonely Boys on “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love.” Santana and Henry Garza mesh quite well on guitar,and with Santana’s influence on the band so brightly displayed, maybe this is a collaboration that might merit revisiting.
— By Michael Corby