Carlos Santana’s 1976 comeback album gets a terrific sonic upgrade.
Santana – Amigos – Columbia Records PC 33576 (1976)/Speakers Corners (2013) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 41:14 *****:
Mexican born guitarist Carlos Santana moved to San Francisco as a young child. He was already a trained musician, first in violin and then guitar. There is an array of business owners in The Mission District who still claim to have launched Santana into the vibrant Sixties music scene. As a teenager, Santana became a part of San Francisco rock lore. In 1966, at the Fillmore West (the Fillmore Auditorium at the time), he filled in for an “ailing” Paul Butterfield with an all-star band of local rockers. The rest is history. Bill Graham embraced the musical phenom and the rapid ascent to stardom was underway. The combination of hard rock and Latin/African jazz rhythms was unique. The addition of timbales and congas made the percussion stand out. The lineup for the first self-titled album included Greg Rolie (vocals, organ, piano), Dave Brown (bass), Michael Shrieve (drums), Michael Carabello (congas) and Jose Chepito Areas (timbales). The album yielded a hit single, “Evil Ways”. More importantly, Santana delivered the breakout performance at Woodstock with a scorching version of Soul Sacrifice”.
The follow-up, Abraxas added to the momentum. Two hit singles, “Oye Como Va” and “Black Magic Woman” combined with the frenetic jamming made the band unforgettable. A third album, Santana III kept the core group together, but there were the usual band complications on the horizon in the form of personnel changes. The 1972 release Caravanserai concentrated on jazz riffs and did not achieve the commercial success of previous efforts. Santana was discovering spirituality and more eclectic musical influences. The subsequent releases Welcome and Barboleta continued the experimental approach with mixed results. Additionally, he recorded Love Devotion Surrender with John McLaughlin in 1973. A comeback was needed and expected.
In 1976, Santana retooled the group after the departure of Greg Rolie. Amigos recaptured some of the commercial accessibility but with an emphasis on modern global contexts. “Let it Shine” was a minor success as a single and the album cracked the Top 10 on Billboard. Speakers Corner has released an upgraded vinyl re-master of Amigos, and it sounds great! While Carlos Santana is reclaiming some of the early mojo, he is doing so with sophisticated, fully realized dynamics. Side 1 opens with the blistering, “Dance Sister Dance”. It maintains a level of accessibility with a tight polyrhythmic Latin groove as the backup singers playfully intone, “…Dance Sister Dance”. New singer Greg Walker counters and joins in with soulful articulation. Santana’s concise, agile guitar work is mesmerizing. This 8:15 rhythm suite has atmospheric counterpoint transitions and ramps up to a swirling, hypnotic finale with string synthesizers, guitar and wild punctuated tempo stops. “Take Me With You’ is a rocker with jazz inflections that is reminiscent of the first two albums. The high energy instrumental features organ (Tom Coster) and Santana’s passionate guitar licks. Again there is a metamorphosis to a gentler. supple rhythm that underscores the musical complexity of this unique player. The side concludes with funky soul fest “Let Me” showcasing clavinet, a memorable David Brown (in his last album) bass intro and heartfelt vocals. After a key change, Santana launches into a scorching, distortion-filled solo that is nothing short of heart-stopping.
Side 2 demonstrates that Santana is not content to merely recycle his earlier success. “Gitano” is a wild merger of Spanish classical music (with a graceful guitar intro) and a salsa-like dance party. The arrangements on Amigos are exemplary. Here, the tender classical structure evolves with a tempo uptick into a rapidly expanded translation with bass, percussion and a sprightly Latin-tinged piano. The percussion breaks and unison chanting chorus are compelling. “Tell Me Are You Tired” has a basic soul groove and lays out some 70’s “strut’ with heavy bass, a speed transition, gospel vocals and electric piano solo. A certain standout is the spiritual instrumental “ Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile)”. The slower temp creates a meditative resonance, similar to “Samba Pa Ti” (from Abraxas). Santana uses two distinctly separate guitar tones to build up the texture of this number. The inevitable ramp up of intensity takes the listener to a heightened awareness of the musical commitment. “Let It Shine”, the album’s lone single cuts loose with nasty rock guitar lines, Herbie Hancock-inspired synth and a rhythmic mosaic aesthetic that helped the track chart on pop and r &b charts.
Speakers Corner vinyl re-mastering of Amigos is exceptional. The stereo separation is flawless and the subtle counterpoint interplay between rhythm and melodic instruments is balanced with deft precision. Santana’s guitar is prominent and never buried by the denser layers of sound. Both the piercing and fluid tonalities are captured with vibrant results. The mind-blowing artwork by Tadanori Yokoo represented on full-sized double front-back and inside panels glows radiantly with glossy luxuriance.
Amigos is a great achievement!
Side One; Dance Sister Dance; Take Me With You; Let Me
Side Two: Gitano; Tell Me You Are Tired; Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile); Let It Shine
Carlos Santana – guitar, percussion, conga, vocals); Tom Coster (keyboards); Ndugu Leon Chandler – drums, percussion, conga; Armanda Peraza – conga, percussion, vocals; David Brown – bass; Greg Walker – vocals); Maxine Willard Waters – background vocals; Julia Tillman Waters – background vocals; Ivory Stone – background vocals