One would have to be unnecessarily churlish to begrudge Carlos Santana the massive success of his 1999 Supernatural set…the hit singles, the Grammys, the multi-platinum sales, all of it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy or a more talented musician. Bolstered by high-profile guest appearances (Eric Clapton, Lauryn Hill, Dave Matthews, and, of course, Rob Thomas), the disc seemed both like a “comeback” (though Santana never really went anywhere) and a well-deserved tribute.
When Santana went back to the well in 2002 with Shaman, the bloom was already off the rose with the guest-star thing…outside of turns by Michelle Branch (on the sunny hit “The Game of Love”) and Macy Gray (on the funky “Amore (Sexo)”), the only real highlights on the disc were the four cuts that just featured Santana and his band. For the most part though, Santana was relegated to the role of playing sideman to lesser talents (Dido, P.O.D., Musiq, Citizen Cope, etc.)
This new collection starts off promisingly with two potent cuts of classic funky Afro-Latin pop…”Hermes” and “El Fuego” (with the like-minded “Con Santana” and the jaunty closing “Da Tu Amor” coming later in the proceedings)…powered by sweetly soaring guitar riffs from Carlos and chanted Spanish vocals.
But then the parade of guest-stars begins anew.
The sprightly “I’m Feeling You” features another fine vocal by Michelle Branch and the ever-remarkable Mary J. Blige sings the choruses of “My Man” (which features nimble rapping by Big Boi of OutKast.) Sean Paul’s dancehall reggae…featuring vocals on the choruses by Joss Stone…on “Cry Baby Cry” melds with Santana fairly well.
Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler steps up to the plate with a tepid power ballad (“Just Feel Better”) that is only saved from MOR hell by Santana’s distinctive playing. American Idol runner-up Bo Bice (how the heck did he get in here? Oh yeah, he works for producer/record label president Clive Davis too) seems strangely out of his depth on the anonymous “Brown Skin Girl” (which compares, unfavorably, to Supernatural’s massive hit “Smooth”.) Anthony Hamilton’s turn on the R&B ballad “Twisted” is somewhat better (though a bit padded at 5+ minutes) but it still doesn’t really sound like a Santana cut.
“I Don’t Want to Lose Your Love”, featuring Santana tour-mates Los Lonely Boys, works well enough despite some hackneyed lyrics. The infectious salsa of the relentlessly positive “I Am Somebody”…featuring will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas…is fun largely because it meets Santana on common ground rather than trying to shoehorn him into another style. And the majestic “Trinity”…which features Santana joining forces with pedal steel guitar hero Robert Randolph and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett…is a soaring delight.
All That I Am is not a bad record (it's not great either...but at least it’s better than Shaman)…but I do hope that it’s the end of a "trilogy" and that the next Santana disc has far fewer guest stars and far more pure savory Santana goodness than this one does.