Thursday, October 07, 2010

Grooves: Santana - Abraxas (1970)

Santana is one of those artists that many immediately think first of his latter day sins with songs like "Smooth" featuring Rob Thomas. However, on his second album Abraxas, Santana was in true form. His guitar virtuoso status may never be completely questioned, his songwriting has definitely lacked the "black magic" that it had back in 1970. Aside from Love and War (funny how those two band names match up), I can't think of any other Latin infused rock and roll bands active or in existence in the mainstream. Please correct me if I'm wrong as I love all three bands. Anyway, all this blathering on is to say that Santana is an old, and much welcomed friend of mine. His early works can not be tarnished by his latter day sins and Abraxas is proof positive of this. This is the only Santana record I've owned on any format. And although I started my listening as a kid with their greatest hits, this is really a one stop shop for anyone who moderately likes Santana. For uber fans, it's easily his best record. I find myself in the former camp, but still think it's a worthy disc for any record collector. Look at that artwork! So psychedelic!

I believe I procured this delightful album from Tunes in Voorhees, probably for about 50 cents. Yet another John Arena connected record, as he worked at Tunes for many, many a year. It's a tad beat up, but the record still plays exquisitely. What's great about Abraxas is the usage of instrumentals. Santana's music is never about lyric quality. You go for Carlos' guitar and the general vibe that is created around his mystical guitar playing. This record has a special place in my heart as it was mostly listened to whilst living in a glorified walk-in closet in West Philly for a year and a half. As much as the claustrophobic nature of my efficiency was kind of harsh, one thing that got me through some of those more annoying, trying times was vinyl and Abraxas was surprisingly one of the frequent players involved.

The album itself is a treat. It starts with the beautiful and psychedelic instrumental "Singing Winds, Crying Beasts" written by percussionist Mike Carabello. It's one of those songs that the title nails it and gives you said image of a jungle teeming with strange sights which immediately gives way to "Black Magic Woman," a fitting song for the image created. It's as if we traversed these jungles with the band to reach this mystic lady. One strange note, I never knew that the song "Black Magic Woman" was written by Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac. I am world famous for hating Fleetwood Mac. In fact, they stand at the top of my list of least favorite bands. Someone needs to do some deeper research it seems. "Black Magic Woman" is a hell of a song in Santana's hands, and it's easily his best of the period. The beginning riff and ending jam are all taken from a Hungarian track called "Gypsy Queen" which seems to fit rather perfectly with the titular conjurer of Black magic. Even though I hate The Mac, I feel the urge to do my proper research here and give a listen to the original. "Oye Como Va" is yet another cover of a Tito Puente classic. Even though we were treated to two covers in the first half, Santana has a way of making them their own. Be it the tasty guitar groove or the excellent Latin percussion in the background, you know a Santana song when you hear it. lastly there is "Incident at Neshabur", yet another instrumental arrangement that closes the side perfectly. It is truly a wonderful musical experience. Side two ups the Latin ante big time and in a great way. If the first side was more psych rock, the second side is the groovier, Sambacore side. Both "Se A Cabo" and "Samba Pa Ti" are wonderful Latin grooves with plenty of Santana's fluid riffing. "Hope You're Feeling Better" is the lone rocker on the side as more of these tracks traverse the fine line between blues and Samba music. The closing is a tad anti-climactic with the quick sing-along of "El Nicoya" closing things up. Regardless of this, the record is an enchanting experience and for 50 cents, sounds stellar. No scratched, no skips, just a few little crackles to give it that warm feeling that makes vinyl so wonderful.

I have never listened to Santana albums on any other medium other than vinyl. It's the only way I have experienced his music and I think I'm going to keep it that way. It has a certain mystical power on vinyl. Like a magic spell conjuring some ancient jungle voodoo, the music is it's own spell. The arrangements are amazing on Abraxas make it an essential listen for any music lover. Santana may have created some of my least favorite songs in the past 10 years, but his 70's work is nothing short of legendary as this album proves.

Up Next: Television's follow up to a masterpiece.

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