Twenty-nine years after his breakthrough album, "Abraxas," topped the charts, Carlos Santana has his second No. 1 album.
It's an accomplishment no one could have predicted when "Supernatural" (Arista) was released in mid-June. After all, while Santana remained a strong draw on the concert circuit, he had not recorded a studio album since 1992. Now "Supernatural" has sold 3 million copies and slowly rolled to the top of Billboard's album chart.
Credit Clive Davis, president of Arista Records. Three decades ago, when he headed Columbia Records, it was Davis who signed the San Francisco band Santana and made sure it got on the bill at the original Woodstock Festival. That's when Santana's potent and original fusion of rock, blues and African and Latin rhythms first caught the public ear, and where Carlos Santana's blazing, passionate guitar work elevated him to rock's pantheon.
Unfortunately, Santana's illustrious accomplishments stopped translating into record sales, so Davis came up with a game plan that mixed Santana's familiar Latin rock outings and collaborations with hot alt-rock and hip-hop acts.
"Supernatural" features such typically fusionary tracks as "(Da Le) Yaleo," "Africa Bamba," "Migra," the elegantly romantic instrumental "El Farol" and "Corazon Espinado," a fiery encounter with the Mexican rock group Mana. But what caught radio's attention are Santana's collaborations with such current favorites as Lauryn Hill, Everlast, Wyclef Jean, Eagle-Eye Cherry and Rob Thomas, lead singer of Matchbox 20.
It's the Santana-Thomas track, the lightly grooving "Smooth," that has pumped up the sales volume, but it's relatively innocuous, as are Eagle-Eye Cherry's "Wishing It Was" and Everlast's inspirational "Put Your Lights On," which essentially layers Santana's leaning-to-metal electric commentary on top of Everlast's acoustic strum and world-weary vocal.
Santana guested on "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," and she returns the favor on "Do You Like the Way," where she raps "In the rhythm, Santana lick the guits with precision/ Not accidental, intentional/ conscious decision."
Hill's effort is certainly more heartfelt and convincing than Wyclef Jean's contribution, "Maria Maria." The best of the new blood is Dave Matthews, who turns in a soft-spun and subdued meditation, "Love of My Life," a rare showcase for Santana's understated guitar work.
On most of "Supernatural," the fleet-fingered Santana tears off typically torrid performances, which only underscores the disappointment of "The Calling," an encounter with his old friend Eric Clapton. The two have some forceful exchanges, but you wish the song itself had more fire or lyric depth to push them past the comfort zone.
CAPTION: Guitarist Carlos Santana teams with rock and hip-hop greats in his top-selling "Supernatural."