Santana - Shape Shifter
Released: 15 May 2012
Style: Folk Rock
Arctic Top Track: Mr. Szabo
Review by: Rich Pickings - 18th June 2012
If it's possible to live out of the spotlight after selling more than a hundred million albums in a career, Carlos Santana appears to have been doing just that in the last few years. Without bothering the singles charts over here since 2002's Grammy winning collaboration with Michelle Branch The Game of Love, the man who was a standard bearer for Latin artists since emerging at Woodstock has been relatively fallow, not releasing an original collection of material to follow 2005's All That I Am until now.
Shape Shifter is his 36th album in total, and aside from a solitary track – Eres La Luz – is comprised entirely of instrumentals which we're told have been lying around in various stages of composition over the years. Backed by the usual array co-writers, collaborators and sundry members of the travelling circus that represents his eponymous band, there's always a possibility that it could suffocate in a crush of ideas, but long standing fans should have little cause for concern, as all the signature touches they'll be familiar with are still prominent.
Dedicated to the cause of indigenous natives around the planet, the titular opener starts placidly with some American Indian ceremonial chanting, before rapidly developing into a familiarly riff- heavy work out demonstrating the kind of virtuosity honed over 50 years with a guitar attached like another limb. There follows an excellent, blues inflected cover of Toure Kundra's Dom, before Nomad ends up in the kind of winding desert rock jam that helped connect the man to his break out audience in the early 70's.
When doing what most would perceive him to do best, Santana continues to fascinate. Here, the cantina piano and equatorial elegance of Macumba In Budapest is delicately sublime, whilst the firing tom-toms and flamenco shades of of Mr. Szabo are post midnight and edged with darker passions.
Perhaps it's in doing what people expect, rather than an exploring of his roots less travelled that is Shape Shifter's main weakness. A stodgy mid section of chain-tapas sound tracking recalls the horror of eighties over production at it's worst, especially on In The Light Of a New Day and the annoyingly pristine Angelica Faith.
In retrospect it shouldn't be a surprise that one of the industry's elder statesmen is only happy pushing at certain boundaries, after all Carlos Santana has little to prove to anyone. Equally though this could be the right time for more adventure, especially given the platform he has earned to deliver Latin American music to a rapidly expanding global audience. If he chooses to accept it, this mission is far from over.