KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Forty Year Friday – SANTANA “FESTIVAL” AND “MOONFLOWER”

Artist: SANTANA
Album: FESTIVAL and MOONFLOWER

[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]

I’ve enjoyed Santana’s music since high school. I marveled over their unique Latin-rock sound on the handful of songs from their late-‘60s/early-‘70s heyday still being played regularly on rock radio stations a decade later, as well as their fiery percussion-heavy performance at the original Woodstock festival in 1969, and became a big fan by my early 20s. I saw them in concert multiple times throughout the ‘90s during a period when their commercial fortunes had dwindled, but their live performances were as inspiring as ever, with the brilliant, singular guitar wizardry of Carlos Santana always front & center. For such an important artist in my life, I haven’t written about them here very much, but I suppose that’s not surprising considering the main focus of this blog has been the lesser-played artists in my collection. I did, however, discuss them twice before, in the first post about My Gateway Compilations and in Part 4 of the Great Out Of The Gate series on my favorite debut albums. Please check out those posts if you missed them the first time, since they showcase how important Santana has been to me for 3+ decades. Beginning with their groundbreaking debut they scored multiple Top 20 albums, including a handful of chart-toppers, and even without radio hits or a consistent lineup they still managed to sell millions of records while constantly challenging their fan base with new sounds & sonic textures. In 1977, nearly a decade into their recording career, Santana released two immensely enjoyable albums. The second of these found them back in multi-platinum territory, an accomplishment they wouldn’t achieve again for 20+ years.

 

Festival essentially marked the beginning of a new phase in Santana’s career, with a revamped lineup that only included one carryover (keyboard/synth man Tom Coster) and marked the first appearance of longtime Santana percussionist Raul Rekow, who always appeared to be the happiest man in the world whenever he was performing. It’s also notable for the vocal contributions of The Waters Family (siblings Oren, Maxine & Julia) and several other singers, so the album has more of a group-vocal feel rather than featuring a distinctive front-person. I’m far from an expert on Latin music but I can hear more traditional Latin sounds on this album than ever before (rather than the Latin-rock-jazz hybrid they were known for), as well as a big soul and R&B influence, which I might not have enjoyed at the time but I appreciate now. Things get off to a rousing start with a three song suite, “Carnaval/Let The Children Play/Jugando,” which moves from the sound of a Carnival Festival (with a lovely synth-flute melody) to a more deliberate groove (featuring searing lead guitar, super smooth harmonies, a mix of English & Spanish lyrics and wonderful organ and guitar solos) and closes with a pulsing Latin-tinged instrumental with fluid guitar & synth lines. “Try A Little Harder” could be a War song, with a great funky beat (love those double cowbell hits), the repeated “Try a little harder now” refrain & Carlos mimicking the melody on guitar. “Verão Vermelho” is a cover of a 1970 Elis Regina song, highlighted by flamenco guitar in the intro & outro, lots of impressive & expressive acoustic guitar and captivating wordless vocals as Carlos mirrors the melody. With a little tweaking, “Let The Music Set You Free” could have been a disco hit. As is it’s very danceable, with a peppy groove, chugging guitar & Hammond organ washes and the song’s title repeated with biting guitar interjections. The introspective “Revelations” shifts from sparse piano, electric guitar & strings to a Bolero drum rhythm as Carlos solos on top, slowly building in intensity with additional percussion and call-and-response between guitar & synth. Other than Carlos’ inimitable guitar sound, album closer “María Caracóles” is as far from rock music as you can get. Instead, they wrap things up with a traditional-sounding percussive Latin song with a fantastic horn arrangement & chorus vocals (in Spanish). Festival isn’t quite a classic but I like it a lot, and it led directly to one of my favorite Santana albums.

 

Moonflower is a 16-track double album with 8 new studio recordings and 8 live performances (5 of those songs appeared on the previous 2 albums). It’s also noteworthy for introducing several musicians who would stay with the band for at least another few years: drummer Graham Lear, lead singer Greg Walker and bassist David Margen. Of the studio tracks, their brilliant re-working of The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” is certainly a highlight, returning them to the Top 40 for the first time in 5 years. “I’ll Be Waiting” is a super catchy soul/pop tune that reminds me of The Spinners. After an atmospheric piano intro, “Zulu” morphs from a choppy jazz-fusion rhythm (a la early Return To Forever) to a more danceable groove. The beautiful instrumental “Flor d’Luna (Moonflower)” has a slinky, jazzy Latin rhythm with a deeper guitar tone (possibly a hollow-body?). Bookended by quiet synth-and-piano soul/R&B, “Transcendance” showcases some blistering lead guitar on a percussive jazz-fusion backdrop. They also enter Donny Hathaway territory with the jazz/soul/blues hybrid “Dawn/Go Within.” The live tracks are all prime Santana. I especially love the punchier rendition of “Carnaval/Let The Children Play/Jugando” from the previous album, especially the transition between the first two songs when Carlos’ guitar cuts through. Although Walker’s vocals aren’t as distinctive as original singer (and Journey co-founder) Gregg Rolie, he does a fine job on an upbeat version of “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen,” and he really shines on “Dance Sister Dance,” one of my favorites from 1976’s Amigos. “Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile)” is a stunning instrumental, even if it’s not quite as definitive as the version on the Viva Santana compilation. Lear and the percussion section shine on “Soul Sacrifice/Head, Hands & Feet,” a 14-minute reprisal of the song that made them legends at Woodstock along with an extended drum solo. Moonflower closes with two classic Santana instrumentals joined together, “Savor/Toussaint L’Overture.” It’s brilliantly played, especially by percussionists Raul Rekow and José “Chepito” Areas. There might be a handful of Santana albums that are slightly more essential, but Moonflower would still be an ideal introduction for the uninitiated. The fact that the studio & live recordings are intermingled makes the album flow a lot better than if they were on separate discs.

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13 comments on “Forty Year Friday – SANTANA “FESTIVAL” AND “MOONFLOWER”

  1. le0pard13
    October 6, 2017

    Santana another long-time favorite of mine, too. The most recent I’ve picked up on vinyl being the recent Santana IV (with the reunion of the original ’70s lineup) and the Moonflower album you’ve highlighted. Very nice.

    Like

    • It’s great to know you love Santana as much as I do. Have you listened to Moonflower on vinyl yet? Wondering what you think of it? I thought the Santana IV reunion album was excellent, and the subsequent live album/blu-ray was a blast as well. Did you get the most recent Santana album that’s a collaboration with The Isley Brothers? I’ve only played it on Spotify but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. Will have to buy a copy when my home renovations are complete and I have a music room again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • le0pard13
        October 8, 2017

        Oh yeah. Listening to Moonflower on the turntable was an eye and ear opener. The collaboration with the Isle Bros. is next on my must-have list. Good to hear that you enjoyed it. That means I have to pick it up even sooner now. 😏

        Like

      • I’ve been an Isley Brothers fan for nearly as long as I’ve loved Santana. I wasn’t expecting much from the collaboration and perhaps because of that I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not life-changing or anything but hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. le0pard13
    October 6, 2017

    Reblogged this on It Rains… You Get Wet and commented:
    Rich Kamerman always throws a spotlight on some fine music. Like him, Santana another long-time favorite of mine. The most recent I’ve picked up on vinyl being the recent Santana IV (with the reunion of the original ’70s lineup) and the Moonflower album Rich has highlighted in this piece. Very nice.

    Like

  3. DanicaPiche
    October 6, 2017

    Great read, Rich! This isn’t a Woodstock performer I’d have guessed, so it was a nice surprise. It’s interesting that Santana’s commercial success seems to have ebbed and flowed. I wonder whether the clothing line is more profitable?

    Like

    • Thanks, Danica. I’m guessing if you searched the list of Woodstock performers and figured out which ones released more than one album in 1977, Santana might have been obvious, but I’m glad this came as a surprise. I think even when they weren’t having commercial success with their albums they were always a successful live act. Seeing them multiple times in the ’90s was proof of that for me. Prior to their pop resurgence in ’99 (I think), they were playing for the diehards…and there were still plenty of us out there. Not sure I was aware they had a clothing line, but I’m pretty sure there are Santana wines. They probably bring in a ton of money with that venture.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Alyson
    October 7, 2017

    Hi there – Like Danica wouldn’t have thought of this Woodstock performer but I like! As ever I can’t say I know much about the albums featured here but She’s Not There was a massive hit in my final year of high school and tuned me into the master of the guitar that was/is Carlos Santana. The minute you add the word “Latin” to a musical genre I know I’ll like it, as just such feel-good music thats easy to dance to. It’s a thumbs up this week.

    Just thinking we’re already into October so into the last quarter of the year – You’ve done really well this year posting these weekly reviews but a) are you starting to run out of inspiration or b) are you saving the best ’til last? Just curious.

    Like

    • Hi Alyson. I wasn’t aware that the Santana version of “She’s Not There” was a hit in the UK. I’m happy to know that you’re also a fan. It’s hard to imagine anyone not liking at least some of their songs.

      I’m still really enjoying this series and I have plenty of great albums to choose from. In fact, I’m whittling down the list to figure out which ones I really want to highlight. As always, the hardest part is finding the time to take notes and actually write these posts. It feels great when I finally get one done but until then I feel a lot of self-imposed pressure to get it done. It was a goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year and I’m so close to completing it. I won’t be saving the best for last, though. I’ve already written about my absolute favorites from ’77 earlier this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if others consider some of the upcoming albums the best of ’77 (especially anyone who doesn’t like prog-rock).

      Like

  5. J.
    October 8, 2017

    I’m still exploring the Santana discography after staying clear of it after yon Supernatural album many years ago. Can’t say these have cropped up in the ‘explore further’ category, but I’ll maybe find something there (after all, I’m enjoying Zebop! which I don’t believe to be highly regarded by many).

    Like

    • When Supernatural was released I was still a huge Santana fan, buying every new album without needing to know anything about it. Some of my favorites in their catalog were released in the ’90s, but I was shocked at how much I disliked Supernatural. It had nothing to do with “selling out,” since they already had plenty of “pop” songs in the past (“Winning” from the early ’80s comes to mind…and I love that song). I just found it to be a watered down version of their sound. I remained skeptical about their next several releases, but in recent years I’m happy to see them returning to “classic Santana.” The reunion of their classic early lineup was excellent, and I really like the latest album with The Isley Brothers. As for the albums covered in this post, I strongly recommend Moonflower. Along with Caravanserai and Borboletta, these are three definitive but somewhat overlooked albums in their discography.

      Liked by 1 person

      • J.
        October 8, 2017

        Caravanserai is on the list of albums that have been recommended. So too is the reunion album, thought I was a bit skeptical of the Isley Brothers collaboration, but it’s pleasing to know that’s a winner.

        I’ll add these and Barboletta to the Santana list!

        Like

      • Glad I’m not the only one who’s recommended Caravanserai. It’s one of those albums that keeps revealing a little more of itself to me each time I play it.

        Like

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