The release of Corazón is a surprise for fans of the Latin rock group headed by revered Mexican-born guitarist Carlos Santana: it is the rock legend’s first ever Latin album (though a few songs are in English).
Corazón means ‘heart’ in Spanish, and there’s a lot of it on this album. The Santana band COOKS on opener Saideira (featuring Samuel Rosa of Brazilian rock band Skank), a frenzied booty-shaker that is guaranteed to get listeners moving. The Hammond organ and percussion get a real workout, and of course, Santana’s solos continue to sizzle nearly 50 years into his career.
There are some lovely tender moments too. Lead single La Flaca with Columbian rockstar is slow, sexy and steamy. Una Noche en Nápoles combines the talents of Santana with Mexican singer-songwriter Lila Downs and Spanish flamenco singer Niña Pastori to conjure a smoky Havana club. It is a mournful yet romantic piece where Santana’s exquisite acoustic guitar bits really do got straight to the hearts of listeners. Toni Braxton’s Spanish Guitar, eat your heart out! Cuban-American pop icon Gloria Estefan reflects on the calm mid-tempo Besos de Lejos, whilst rising R&B star Miguel sauces things up on the stripped Indy. The least sexy moment on the album is the contrived Yo Soy La Luz, whose breathy calls of ‘sexy’ recall yet have none of the alluring subtlety of ‘Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady.
The remakes are a hit or miss. The Grammy-Award-winning Argentinian ska band Los Fabulosos Cadillacs meat up the album with a lively re-do of Mal Bicho, keeping the rapid-fire lyrics and hilarious grunts. Iron Lion Zion may have Ziggy Marley and the warmth that the 1992 mix of reggae legend Bob Marley’s original doesn’t have. However, those female harmony vocals are nothing on the I Threes, and the Spanish language verse sounds out of place. And why must there be a Oye 2014? Why must Pitbull ruin everything? The unnecessarily backwards drums are an ominous sign that this remake of 1970s’ Oye Como Va is dead on arrival. So what if Pitbull is a Cuban-American rapper? Listeners should not be subjected to any more obnoxious Miami-accented ‘babaaaaaay’s.
Corazón is no Supernatural (the epic 1998 collaboration album that won Santana eight Grammys). There isn’t a surefire hit single like Smooth or The Game of Love. Nevertheless, it should remind listeners that Santana and his band can still deliver inspired performances. There is just enough heart in this collection to captivate audiences either in concert or on the stereo.