Instead of Shaman, Carlos Santana’s latest should have been called The Man. Having recruited such pop stars as Dave Matthews, Lauryn Hill, Eric Clapton and Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas to appear on his 1999 comeback album, Supernatural—which won nine Grammys and sold more than 14 million copies—Santana commands an even glitzier guest list for his follow-up. Macy Gray, Seal, Dido, Musiq, Michelle Branch, P.O.D. and even Plácido Domingo sit in with the guitar god. The result is a sprawling set that, much like Supernatural, is impressive for its stylistic breadth and sheer musicianship if not for its focus.
Santana teams up with 19-year-old Branch for the first single, “The Game of Love,” but his adroit, lyrical guitar work doesn’t gel with the singsong chorus and Branch’s fresh-scrubbed delivery. Much better are his pairings with newcomer Citizen Cope (on the bluesy “Sideways”) and with Gray, whose colorful vocals are an inspired addition on the saucy “Amoré (Sexo).” Although he dabbles in everything from R&B and hip-hop to alt-metal and classical, Santana is still best when sticking closer to his Latin-rock roots on tracks such as the soaring instrumental “Victory Is Won,” on which, sans any guest vocalist, he simply makes his guitar sing.
Bottom Line: Star-studded but only semistellar