The first three Santana albums, two of which were titled Santana — for clarity, one of them is known commonly as Santana III — constituted an amazing body of work, much of which remains essential to the Classic Rock format today, four and a half decades after the fact. The blending of hard-rock tropes with Latin rhythms, with Carlos Santana’s guitar dancing on top, made for a remarkably satisfying musical experience, and I still pull out these records — particularly the second, Abraxas — on a regular basis.
So you could have knocked me over with a feather when I learned that that original Santana lineup would be issuing a new album, with the unsubtle title Santana IV. I turned in a preorder with dizzying speed, and waited to see what what would happen.
And now that it’s happened? Well, it’s pretty much as billed: a worthy continuation of the sounds Santana made famous. At various points in this 75-minute showcase, you’ll hear echoes of the things you heard before; Carlos still plays an amazingly liquid guitar, and the reconstituted band has forgotten none of the tricks it deployed way back when. (The only missing player from the Golden Era is percussionist José “Chepito” Areas.) What Santana IV doesn’t do is take you to places you’ve never been before: if you’re familiar with the band, you’ll know what’s going on every step of the way. This wasn’t the case with, say, Abraxas, where the improbable fusion of British blues to Hungarian jazz — in a single track! — not only pushed your Good Listening button but actually jacked up your sense of wonder.
So you’ve been here before. If this was one of your favorite vacation spots, welcome back: things are just the way you remember them. (Ronald Isley contributes a couple of hypersmooth lead vocals.) If you missed this band the first time around, this is almost as good an introduction as the original Santana albums. But if you weren’t that crazy about them before, this is not going to be your giant step into the fandom — though you may like the lead single, “Anywhere You Want to Go”, which encapsulates much of what’s going on.
Disclosure: Purchased at retail.