At first glance, Supernatural — Carlos Santana’s first album for Arista — looks like a record that’s been A&R’ed and special-guested to death. Certainly the label’s president, Clive Davis, has taken his well-established multiproducer, star-studded approach to revitalizing the veteran guitar great’s career. Supernatural features contributions from Dave Matthews, Wyclef Jean, Everlast, Lauryn Hill, Eagle-Eye Cherry, Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas, Mexican rockers Maná and Eric Clapton — everybody but Britney Spears and Meat Loaf.
So how come most of it sounds so damn good? The truth of the matter is, it’s been too long since Carlos Santana delivered a new studio album worthy of his awesome gifts, and for whatever reasons, all the high-profile attention he receives here appears to have reinvigorated his muse. Eclectic, lively and only occasionally goofy, Supernatural offers a glossy but winning context of musical fusion that highlights Santana’s unique ability to make that guitar of his cry expressively.
Likely to get a lot of the early notice is “Love of My Life,” a lilting, romantic little gem that finds Matthews sounding extremely Peter Gabriel-like and Santana answering back, playing with seasoned taste and passion. “Smooth” is a surprisingly spicy number that finds Rob Thomas rising to the soulful occasion. Not everything is quite so appealing. “Do You Like the Way” — featuring Hill and Cee-Lo of Goodie Mob — seems a bit more forced, but fellow Fugee Wyclef Jean serves Santana admirably on the funky “Maria Maria.” Also strong is the Dust Brothers-assisted “Wishing It Was,” in which Eagle-Eye Cherry inhabits a subtly updated Santana sound with considerable ease. “Coraz=n Espinado” — with Maná — is a similarly organic delight. Other tracks, like the opening “(De Le) Yaleo,” prove that Santana remains supernaturally graceful without too much help from anyone. Who could begrudge such an enduring guitar god another big, star-studded shot at living la vida loca?