Santana (Columbia, 1969)
      Santana: Abraxas (Columbia, 1970)
     Santana 3 (Columbia, 1971)
     Caravanserai (Columbia, 1972)
     Welcome (Columbia, 1973)
      Santana's Greatest Hits (Columbia, 1974)
     Borboletta (Columbia, 1974)
      Lotus (Columbia, 1974)
     Amigos (Columbia, 1976)
    Festival (Columbia, 1977)
    Moonflower (Columbia, 1977)
   Inner Secrets (Columbia, 1979)
   Marathon (Columbia, 1979)
   Zebop! (Columbia, 1981)
   Shango (Columbia, 1983)
   Beyond Appearances (Columbia, 1985)
    Freedom (Columbia, 1987)
     Viva Santana! (Columbia, 1988)
    Spirits Dancing in the Flesh (Columbia, 1990)
     Dance of the Rainbow Serpent (Columbia/Legacy, 1995)
    Live at the Fillmore '68 (1997)
     Best of Santana (Columbia, 1998)
    The Essential Santana (Legacy, 2002)

Carlos Santana   Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles Live! (Columbia, 1972)
    Love, Devotion, Surrender (Columbia, 1973)
    Illuminations (Columbia, 1974)
    Oneness (Columbia, 1979)
    Silver Dreams–Golden Reality (Columbia, 1979)
    The Swing of Delight (Columbia, 1980)
    Havana Moon (Columbia, 1988)
     Blues for Salvador (Columbia, 1988)
    Santana Brothers (Island, 1994)
     Supernatural (Arista, 1999)
   Shaman (Arista, 2002)
    Ceremony—Remixes & Rarities (BMG, 2003)
    All That I Am (Arista, 2005)
     The Woodstock Experience (Sony/BMG, 2009)

In one of the most remarkable comebacks in pop history, Carlos Santana scored nine Grammys for Supernatural, a 1999 outing that boasted big-time radio hits ("Smooth," with Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas on vocals), an all-star cast (Eric Clapton, Lauryn Hill), and impressive critical credibility. As Santana's successful bid for youth-market favor, the album reached out demographically but did not compromise aesthetically—at its center was Santana's riveting guitar. Supernatural, his 36th album, followed nearly 20 years during which Santana still had his adherents, though he had long left the limelight. The album rekindled the excitement of the guitarist's early days, and showed how enduring the power of his Afro-Cuban sound remained.

The box set, Dance of the Rainbow Serpent, as well as Lotus, a compelling, 22-song live offering, best captures Santana's considerable appeal. Formed in San Francisco in 1967, the band fed the current scene's appetite for long open-air jams with an athletic mixture of blazing guitar and frenetic percussion. Santana's novelty lay in employing the jam format for Latin music. Leader/guitarist Carlos Santana, drummer Michael Shrieve, and percussionist Jose "Chepito" Areas were the band's anchors; fusing Hispanic danceforms and bluesy rock, they achieved a synthesis of the familiar and the exotic. Lotus finds Santana at its peak; throughout its history, the band was marked by frequent personnel changes, and this lineup is its strongest. With Leon Patillo, they'd enlisted a singer markedly more soulful than either original vocalist Greg Rolie or later mainstay Alex Ligterwood, and the entire eight-member unit achieves a remarkable, instinctive symbiosis. Charging through early hits (Fleetwood Mac's "Black Magic Woman," Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va"), this outfit is both fiery and fluid, and with Airto Moreira's "Xibaba (She-Ba-Ba)" and Richard Kermode's "Yours Is the Light," the group suggests its coming direction—jazz-rock fusion and flights into the mystic.

Because its rhythmic basis was so strong and the music itself a solid mix of genres, Santana's would-be jazz fusion was of a less irritating variety than most (the band drew heavily on Miles Davis' Bitches Brew period aggressiveness and rarely stooped to jazz lite). But at the late-'70s height of experimenting with complex chord structures and aimless "atmosphere" (Moonflower, Inner Secrets) Santana had become something unimaginable for such a passionate ensemble: boring. After the jazz foray came the pop—starting with Zebop! and continuing to the present—when Santana began to border on the trite.

Santana's first albums were brilliant, and they hold up very well. World beat ahead of its time, Santana riveted Woodstock audiences with one of the festival's most exciting stage acts. (The Woodstock Experience pairs Santana's debut with a second disc of his Woodstock set.) Carlos' playing continued to delight, even when squandered on inferior material, throughout the band's career. On his own, Carlos Santana flexed his guitar in a number of settings. An instantly recognizable musician—with an intense B.B. King–style clarity of tone, he achieves long, fluid lead lines that resemble those of a violinist—Carlos sounds best when he's juxtaposed against heavy percussion. He became a devotee of Indian guru Sri Chinmoy in the early '70s (and took the name Devadip, or "Light of the lamp of the Supreme") and recorded the drifty Love, Devotion, Surrender with fellow disciple and guitar wizard, John McLaughlin, in 1974. The even driftier Illuminations came that same year, boasting another Chinmoy adherent, jazz composer Alice Coltrane. Despite the presence of such big-name (if unlikely) collaborators as Willie Nelson, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Booker T. Jones, Havana Moon was fairly bland; Blues for Salvador remains one of his strongest efforts. Supernatural sold more than 10 million copies within a year of its release, garnering Santana the kind of superstar status that had long been denied him. Unfortuntely, All That I Am repeated Supernatural's formula with different guests—including Mary J. Blige, Big Boi, and Michelle Branch—and weaker tunes.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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