Santana’s struggle continues on Shaman, his band’s follow-up to ”Supernatural.” ”Since ‘Supernatural,’ ain’t nothing changed/All new players, still the same old game,” rap upstarts Melkie Jean and Governor Washington on the limp-hop cut ”Since Supernatural.” Truer words have not been spoken this year. ”Shaman” sticks to the ”Supernatural” formula agreed upon by Carlos Santana and producer/overseer Clive Davis: On roughly half the tracks, the guitarist and his band unleash their instrumental fury, while the remainder are fronted by au courant acts seemingly chosen by their placement on the latest ”Billboard” charts or by which niche audience they can attract. From Michelle Branch to P.O.D. to Musiq to Dido, the lineup on ”Shaman” is far trendier than that of ”Supernatural.” At times, it’s like a musical ”Love Boat” episode: ”Hey, look, it’s Seal. Where’s he been?” or, ”Wow, Placido Domingo’s on deck!”
It’s not unusual for Latino stars to cross over — in that regard, Santana is the patriarch of Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, and their ilk. What Santana adds besides adventurousness and chops is the dream of global conquest. It’s as if he and Davis want the album to be No. 1 in every nation possible, which ties in with the corporate consolidation of the music industry. These are the moments in which Carlos Santana heeds the devil on his shoulder, and the results aren’t pretty. One minute you’re listening to an ugly P.O.D. smashmouther, ”America,” with Santana’s guitar grafted on, and a few tracks later, out comes the anesthetized voice of Dido. Santana and band offer up a few brassy fanfares for the common hippie-rock god — before nondescript crooner Alejandro Lerner steps in to serenade us on the candlelight ballad ”Hoy Es Adios” or Domingo sandblasts us on the unwieldy classical-bongo mess ”Novus.”
As cynical and overproduced as these collaborations are, ”Shaman” still has its positive, if not heavenly, moments. Santana and Davis know a few things about songcraft and hooks, and sometimes they make their guests sound better than they ordinarily do. Seal emerges from his New Age-soul haze on ”You Are My Kind”; the cheeseball emoting of Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger is a perfect omplement to the guilty-pleasure power ballad ”Why Don’t You and I.” Citizen Cope’s trip-hoppy R&B shuffle grounds ”Sideways”; Ozomatli help Santana conjure the old black magic on ”One of Those Days.” And ”The Game of Love,” a Latin-pop cocktail featuring Branch, brazenly aims to connect Santana to the post-Britney crowd. Ironically, it has a more natural flow than much of Branch’s own album — and, okay, it does grow on you after a few listens.
Ultimately, the real angel on Santana’s shoulder is his guitar. Like Neil Young, he’s at heart a cantankerous veteran who still gets his rocks off turning the volume up high and unleashing a slew of cloud-piercing wails. On ”Shaman,” he lets out a buckshot spray of notes (”Foo Foo”) and makes his hands sound like they’re slipping and sliding all over the fretboard (”Victory Is One”). His guitar works hard to hold ”Shaman” together just as Santana’s ambitions threaten to blow it apart.