Thursday, January 20, 2011

Santana III (1971)

Santana is two things, really. It's the name of a guitarist (first name: Carlos), and it's also the name of a band that that guitarist was in once upon a time. A really good band that performed at Woodstock. I remember popping in a Santana album from somebody else's collection one time and thinking, is this the same guy from that band that played at Woodstock? These days, Santana seems to be little more than a mercenary guitarist, selling his talent to all of today's biggest pop singers. And while he is an amazing guitarist, you're only as good as the musicians you play with. And once upon a time, Santana was a kickass rock band, with a unique jazz/Latino flavor, that could hold their own among the best acts that headlined the Woodstock festival.

The original Santana band only lasted for three albums. Of the three, I could have picked up any one. Their first (self-titled) is closest, chronologically, to their Woodstock appearance, and their second (Abraxas) is sometimes hailed as their best. Their third has less of the songs I already know from the radio, but I picked it for two reasons. One, this special anniversary edition of the album includes a classic live concert on the second disc (a lot like recent editions of Johnny Winter's Second Winter) - which is both highly acclaimed and happens to be the final show at the Fillmore West before it closed down (talk about making history). The other reason is the band's short-lived addition of second guitarist Neal Schon, later to become the backbone of Journey (if you pick up their first few albums, before they got popular, you'll find virtuoso instrumentation in place of sappy balladeering). And few things are more exciting than a solid band with two distinctive lead guitarists.

The music? Does exactly what it says on the tin. You get exactly what you would expect from the original Santana band - plus Neal Schon. Lots of instrumentation, with some lyrics here and there, a Latino flavor, plenty of tribal drumming, and some scorching guitar leads. That goes for both the studio album and the live concert, which includes most of the album in live form. One additional live track that I appreciated was Black Magic Woman (originally on Abraxas), since I'm a huge fan of Peter Green, who penned that song. And I'm not about loyalties here, I think both versions are integral, and worth their existence. The core of the song itself is great, but Santana's instrumentation really brings it to another level. I would call it more of a successful cover than Judas Priest's Green Manalishi, but that would be choosing sides. Other than that, the one song on the album I was previously familiar enough with to really recognize is No One To Depend On, which is a really great song with (surprise!) some really great guitar work. But the quality of the rest of the album stands up as well. If you liked Santana at Woodstock, you'll like this.

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