Saturday, March 10, 2012

Santana (1969)

This is probably among the first 15 or 20 albums I bought and for the life of me I wish I could remember the appeal. I know I played it frequently. But it all sounds a bit monochromatic now, sludgy and drony with poor definition inside the hammering fog of sound. With Abraxas, Carlos Santana stepped forward and staked his claim as a lead guitarist. Here he's much more lost in the thundering din of the mix, mostly instrumentals all decked out with one drumkit plus two more percussionists, and a rich, droning, churchy organ. It's more democratic that way but it does tend toward producing a mush. As for the hit, "Evil Ways," I have no explanation for how it became a top 10 hit in early 1970, except for the feeble point that it was early 1970. I remember liking it, but it sounds very bland to me now, and obnoxious when I pay attention to the lyrics. A lot of the material here is bland, there I said it, which I think is a matter of the airless production before anything else. The performances sound worthy and I can imagine myself caught up in the heat of them. The big side-closers from the original vinyl LP, "Jingo" and "Soul Sacrifice," which account for 11 minutes between them, are rousing and energized. One can always hear there's a lot of enthusiasm even if it doesn't always exactly reach one. Now that I think of it, I bet a good deal of my appreciation way back was that there is a potent feeling here of live performance (one reason the Woodstock tracks added for later editions fit so well). I used to love that about live albums when I was 13 and 14 and 15—I even liked stage announcements, having never seen a show until I was nearly 16. By today's standards this debut album is pretty muddy business for something with such an evidently sophisticated rhythmic attack. Again, a problem of the production—and since the producers are Carlos himself and Brent Dangerfield, there's no one else to blame. I'm going to guess they just didn't know their way very well around a studio. I do like the optical illusion puzzle of the cover illustration. I owned the album for weeks or months before I saw anything but the lion. Also, the title alone of one of the later adds, "Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries," has to count for something.

1 comment:

  1. As I remember (always an iffy proposition), for us Bay Area high schoolers when this came out, the album's appeal was largely due to "Jingo" and "Soul Sacrifice", which were always played and danced to at parties, and which were also popular with the dance class at school.