With Amigos, his last LP, Carlos Santana began rebuilding his status as a pop musician, a status he lost with the admirable — but spotty and often inaccessible — Caravanserai; Love, Devotion and Surrender; and Borboletta. Yet on Festivál he may have embraced the mainstream a mite too much. Though this record is far stronger on the whole than Amigos, it lacks that album's memorable chordal quirks and peaks of intensity, sometimes sounding like a prisoner of its own commercial aspirations. Festivál's up cuts, like "Mariá Caracóles," "Let the Music Set You Free," "Reach Up," "Let the Children Play" and "Jugando," all set rich enough grooves, but are flat compared to Amigos' moments of brilliance. In fact, Santana doesn't do much work here at all, noticeably subordinating himself to his surroundings (for example, "Give Me Love," which is virtually sans Carlos, sounds — literally and completely — like an Earth, Wind and Fire track). I like Festivál, but I would have liked more — a more I figure Carlos Santana can now dispense almost at will — better.
From The Archives Issue 712: July 13, 1995
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