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National Album

Santana, Supernatural (Arista)

The real deal

Santana A few years back, I caught a Santana concert at Great Woods and turned in a three-word review: "Santana was Santana." That about summed up how dependable and predictable they'd gotten: you knew they'd play the oldies, you knew that Carlos would wail on guitar, you knew the trademark percussion-and-guitar sound would be there. But you didn't figure he'd ever do anything different, and you didn't figure that anybody outside of the usual fan base would ever care.

Everything changed with Supernatural, the album that won't go away. On the surface, it embodies the cynical '90s approach to record-making: load the thing up with guest stars, bring in a few dozen producers, hire the song doctors, replace the band with studio pros, and stick the featured artist in there somewhere. But in this case, it actually worked, because Supernatural contains what every Santana album for the past two decades was missing: real songs and real singers. Out went unctuous vocalist Alex Ligertwood, in came a bunch of proven hit-makers (Rob Thomas, Lauryn Hill, Eric Clapton) with material worthy of their talents. Lucky accident or not, the Everlast-sung "Put Your Lights On" ranked as one of the edgiest radio hits of the year. Likewise, the Santana comeback and the Latin explosion (which didn't seem to help Los Lobos any) was one of the year's most entertaining pop-culture accidents -- especially since Carlos Santana seemed to approach the project without cynicism. Consider this an old hippie attempting to infuse the charts with some old-fashioned peace and love -- and, better yet, succeeding.

-- Brett Milano

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