Album review: Santana, Shaman (2002)

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 7, 2002

By Steve Newton

Two songs into the new Carlos Santana CD, Shaman, I couldn’t decide whether I loved the album or despised it.

Things start off just fine with the old-school, tribal-Latin workout, “Adouma”, cowritten by Angelique Kidjo, which is lit white-hot by the guitar god’s fiery fretwork. But on the next tune, “Nothing At All”, some joker named Musiq pulls off a Stevie Wonder imitation that leaves you wondering where Santana’s head was at when he let such a stylistic rip-off tarnish his follow-up to 1999’s Grammy-grabbing Supernatural. If there’s one thing the inimitable rock legend has stood for over the years, it’s the sanctity of individual style and expression.

Fortunately, Musiq is the only guest singer on the star-studded Shaman who embarrasses himself. The disk sports top-notch vocal performances by Seal, Michelle Branch, Macy Gray, and Dido, and covers a lot of musical ground, while never straying too far off the MOR course. Seal is particularly enchanting on “You Are My Kind”, a choke-you-up love ballad penned by Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas, who nearly stole the show on Supernatural with his vocal on the smash hit “Smooth”.

Of course, you can never totally shanghai the spotlight from Santana, whose emotion-drenched guitar work may be the most immediately recognizable instrumental force in pop music. My fave track on Shaman is the only one he wrote himself, “Victory Is Won”, wherein Santana uses six strings to conjure feelings of sadness, joy, and enlightenment—and then delivers one helluva wicked freak-out solo!

The hottest guest-vocalist in the world couldn’t have added a thing.

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