SANTANA - Blessings and Miracles (2021)
Carlos Santana has spent the past decade or so getting back to his roots after a run of all-star collaboration albums made him a chart-topping and Grammy-winning superstar at the turn of the century. His last album, 2019's Africa Speaks, was a purely Latin rock record made with drummer wife Cindy Blackman and producer Rick Rubin; the one before that, Santana IV, featured members from the Santana band's classic '70s lineup. For Blessings and Miracles, the band's 26th album overall, he returns to the formula he perfected on 1999's chart-topping Supernatural and last visited on 2005's All That I Am. He's even asked back some old friends, like Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas, who helped propel Supernatural to historic chart success via the ubiquitous "Smooth" and fills a similar role in the 21st century update "Move." The result is pretty much what you'd expect from an album that pairs Santana with artists from his generation (Steve Winwood finally gets around to covering "A Whiter Shade of Pale") with some younger fans (country outlier Chris Stapleton), plus plenty of guitar heroics (from Carlos and Metallica's Kirk Hammett) to go around: It's all over the place, but not without occasional highlights. The two opening instrumentals – "Ghost of Future Pull / New Light" and "Santana Celebration" – have more in common with the band's earliest years than the star-packed Arista era, but by the time Stapleton shows up for "Joy," Blessings and Miracles has settled into a groove that's part Abraxas, part Shaman. That back-and-forth lands mostly on common ground during the LP's hour-long running time. It helps that Santana isn't overshadowed by his guest stars as he often was on those multiplatinum records. Most of them fit the program this time, so for the most part there's no crowbarring trendy pop stars into the mix (though G-Eazy's rap turn in "She's Fire" sounds like it was brought in from another session). That makes Blessings and Miracles less relevant and exciting than Supernatural at times, but it's a more genuine representation of Santana's music as they roll into another decade.
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