Album review

Santana : Shaman

Santana : ShamanCarlos Santana has either done a deal with some dodgy omnipotent power or he has discovered some universal secret of rejuvenation. Shaman is yet another manifestation of this new energy.
    Assuming you agree that he is currently riding high on a wave of creativity, you will have noticed the source of his new-found vim and vigour first surfaced on the phenomenally successful precursor to this album, Supernatural.

What he is doing, like all the best things in life, is very simple - so you can forget that old pony about harnessing the energies of the universe, or selling his soul, because I made it up (no, really, I did). The Carlos Santana rejuvenation plan goes something like this: Take a bunch of 'topical artistes' with their fresh and shiny outlook on life still intact, and pour them, one at a time, into a well-stocked studio with some top-flight session-players and a sprinkling of old Santana hands. Next, give them a certain amount of freedom to exercise their musical selves. Now - crucial bit this - allow the great man to jam over, under, around and straight through whatever it is that they come up with. Hey presto! Turn a fairly disparate bunch of relative mediocrities into something very, very listenable. And, by association with such young things, the process gives an old Mexican in a black hat a new lease of life. Pure symbiosis!

This lesson was quite clearly learnt from John Lee Hooker, who brought his career back to life (just before he died as it happened). Mr Hooker turned in a couple of very decent albums featuring such luminaries as Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray . . . and one Mr Santana, jamming very proficiently over Hooker's gruff vocals. Top formula it seems, and one which Help the Aged would do well to monitor, if our rock 'n' roll wrinklies are to maintain their future integrity.

As the bloke in the Q magazine review says, Shaman might as well have been called Supernatural ll. Were it not, of course, for the fact that it's a crap title, suitable only for naff teen-schlock horror nasties. But you get the point; the two albums are very similar (but not the same). There are some damn fine tunes here, and some that stretch the formula slightly too far (Placido Domingo? Oh purleeeease!). But this is a long album (don't you just yearn for the days of 40 minute albums that leave you wanting more?) so something good comes along pretty soon.

If you like Supernatural, you'll like this. If you like your Santana more along the lines of Marathon or some of the other dubious 80s 'products' then perhaps you won't. But then again, if you think 80s Santana is worth getting out of bed for, you may well be a little less discerning in your taste and . . . oh what the hell, just go and buy it - the man is clearly on top form.
    Remember this though: John Lee Hooker shuffled off his mortal coil a couple of albums into his sudden return to form, using this very same formula. But then perhaps he really did make a deal - and sell his soul to Santana.

:: Tom Alford

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