*SANTANA — ABRAXAS (50th Anniversary)

It blows my mind to think that this year (2020) is the 50th anniversary of Abraxas by Santana. Man, 50 years is half a century, and that is a long-ass time. 

I remember when I was a kid that my father had a Santana LP in his Vinyl collection, which from what I recall, was a pretty extensive record collection. I’m not sure which Santana album he had, or if he had more than one LP — all I remember is that the artwork was pretty awesome. I would say that I was somewhat familiar with Santana and a few of his songs here and there, but I never really paid attention to him until my late teens.

It was the summer of 1999, and Carlos Santana had his big comeback album Supernatural — An album featuring guest artists and a few instrumental tracks; It was a massive worldwide hit — It dominated radio airplay. It swept most of the music awards that year, including the Grammys. The entire album is pure summer magic for me; the music still feels very much relevant today, and it brings me back to a time in my life that I often look back with fondness. Supernatural ended up opening my eyes and my curiosity towards Santana’s discography.

As I researched their discography, I went all the way back to the genesis of the band and their first self-titled album released in 1969 to get a better sense of Santana’s music; however, it wasn’t until I discovered their second album; Abraxas, that my admiration for Santana was firmly cemented.

In one of my many visits to the DC area, I was at Smash records in Adams Morgan when flipping through the classic rock section; I came across a pristine first US pressing of Abraxas, which included an original Santana Poster. It was a no brainer for me, and I went ahead and bought it. It wasn’t too expensive, but it wasn’t cheap also, and I was ecstatic to finally own Abraxas on vinyl to pair it with my LP copy of Santana III.

Recorded between April and May of 1970 and Released on September 23, 1970, Abraxas was Santana’s second studio album, but their first album to reach #1 in the US. The album’s title is inspired by a passage from Hermann Hesse’s book Demian and the album cover art is from a painting by Mati Klarwein.

The album was a game-changer in the world of music, and it became a highly influential album to generations of musicians thereafter. There is a unique rawness to this album, mostly because there was nobody else from that era that sounded like Santana. Abraxas is the ultimate communion between Afro-Latino music, Blues, Jazz, and Rock. It has been 50 years since this album came out, and it still holds strong as one of the best and most impactful albums of all time.

Tracks:

1.Singing Winds, Crying Beasts (instrumental): Drums, keyboards, electric guitar; I love this intro track, it sets the mood for the whole album, and it gets me going every time I play it.

2.Black Magic Woman: The opening drums setting up the guitar is perfect. It is sensual and hypnotic; this track is simply out of this world. 

3.Oye Como Va: This song created an entirely new genre of music in the Spanish speaking Mundo. Oye Como Va was an original 1963 Mambo composition by Tito Puente; It is important to note that traditional Latin bands of that era were initially outraged by the idea of their music being covered by Rock bands. And initially, Tito Puente was not very supportive of the idea but came around to Santana’s version of Oye Como Va after the song and album became a hit. If this track doesn’t compel you to move and dance, then you probably have no soul. 

4.Incident at Neshabur (Instrumental): This track is a rollercoaster of sounds and a clear example of the high level of skillfulness from the band.

5.Se a Cabo: Written by percussionist Jose “Chepito” Areas. This track has a Salsa vibe mixed with some intense electric guitar. 

6.Mothers daughters: This is probably the least Afro-Latino influenced track of this album. It is more of a traditional Rock piece that shows the versatility of the band. 

7.Samba Pa Ti (Instrumental): The story behind the inspiration of this song is legendary. This is the sexiest track of this album; it is smooth, elegant, and beautiful. 

8.Hope You’re feeling Better: The solo riffs are powerful, and Greg Rollie’s singing is outstanding. This track is pure late 60s early 70s Rock and Roll. 

9.El Nicoya: Another contribution by “Chepito.” The track is short but sweet; it is a groovy way to brings this spellbinding album to a close.

*CERATI: FUERZA NATURAL (Documentary)

The opening lyrics to the first track of Gustavo Cerati’s 2010 album Fuerza Natural evoke some profound emotions, and they always manage to put me in a reflective mood. Those opening lyrics are haunting….

Puedo equivocarme, Tengo todo por delante Y nunca me senti tan bien, Viajo sin moverme de aqui….

Rock en Español has always been a critical component of my musical DNA, and within that DNA, Gustavo Cerati’s music has played a crucial role in shaping saïd DNA. This is why I was beyond excited when I heard that a documentary about the making of Fuerza Natural was available.

We are transported back to the recording sessions of the Fuerza Natural album, which became Cerati’s final studio album—filmed by Leonardo Fresco, a musician who collaborated with Cerati many times and played keyboards on Fuerza Natural. This documentary is a black and white intimate look at Gustavo Cerati’s recording and creative process. And although this documentary piece is only 15 minutes long, it still manages to capture some remarkable images and moments.

We get to see some cool stuff, like the recording of the song Cactus (Track 8), as Cerati plays the acoustic guitar himself. We get a quick peek at the handwritten lyrics and music notes for He visto a Lucy (Track 13). We see some pretty neat, old-school special effects made in-studio.

He seemed deeply involved in the music-making process. We get to see him carefully listening and fine-tuning every single piece of musical notes, making adjustments, changes, and offering constant feedback to his studio band. There is a moment when we see Cerati providing input on exactly how he wanted the bass to sound like….. that was a pretty cool thing to see.

I also notice his constant chain-smoking, which might have contributed to the respiratory issues that he developed after suffering the stroke. It is pretty surreal watching him happy, full of life, creating magic in the recording studio, and then barely a year later, he would fall into a coma and lay on a hospital bed for four years until he died in 2014.

This short documentary piece is a must-watch for all Soda Stereo and Gustavo Cerati fans; for 15 minutes, we get to pretend that we are there with him, and he still is here with us.

*BUNBURY: POSIBLE (Album Recap)

It has been three long-ass years since the release of the highly successful Expectativas (2017), and Bunbury is finally delivering another excellent studio album. It comes out at a crucial moment during this global pandemic, where there is this collective hunger for light and positivity—a need for quality in music, films, and art. And POSIBLE arrives at the perfect moment to soothe our souls.

Bunbury has been consistently making some of the most profound and well-crafted albums of the last 20 years, so the expectations are always high when it comes to his work. Hell, in a world where Live albums are a rarity, Bunbury has released two of the most compelling “live” recordings of recent history; Bunbury: MTV Unplugged (2015) and Bunbury: California Live (2019). Both albums are excellent musical productions.

However, Posible (2020) feels more like an experimental album than previous Bunbury albums. There is a straightforward electronic-rock approach to it, full of lyrics that scrutinize certain aspects of his personal life. A more brooding, soul searching, and more personal sounding album. Where the possibilities of living multiple and parallel lives within a singular existence is a central theme here, I could not help but sense a cinematic vibe throughout this album, with a deep metaphysical sensitivity.

There are tons of David Lynch-inspired musical imagery that come across as you listen to this album, especially when you watch the music videos attached to this album. Most Notably, the Video for “Deseos de usar y tirar,” which is beautifully directed by frequent Bunbury collaborator and highly regarded visual artist Jose Girl (she directed all three videos for this album).

This Video has a clear-cut David Lynch influence, which features Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks) and trans woman artist Jessica Hogan.

This Video for “Cualquiera en su sano juicio (se habría vuelto loco por ti)” is also full of David Lynch vibes. I heard Bunbury was influenced to practice transcendental meditation after hearing about Lynch’s creative process, which explains the connection.

I have been playing this album on heavy rotation, and I really think that as time passes by, it will age very nicely amongst some of the very best albums in the entire Bunbury discography.

Electro-rock is a sound that I have always appreciated when done right. U2’s Achtung Baby (1991) comes immediately to mind. And this album is right up there in terms of quality. A mix of elegant sounding lyrics and bold experimentations. POSIBLE is another phenomenal achievement for a remarkable artist.

WARNER MUSIC SPAIN (2020)

*Andres Calamaro-Cargar La Suerte (Album Recap)

The title of this album references bullfighting, which means to charge closer towards the bull. Bullfighting is something Calamaro is very passionate about, and his support for the ancient bloodsport is blunt and unapologetic.

After a few listening sessions, I can say that Cargar la Suerte is a solid, pretty good but not great rock en Español album. It is a guitar-focused and well-balanced album, similar to previous Calamaro Albums. However, he is not trying something different here. He is staying within his musical lane, which works perfect for him, and it is what Calamaro fans have come to expect. Lyrically is where I take issue with this record. Calamaro has a history of writing lyrics focusing mostly on Argentinian culture and politics, which is difficult to follow if you are not intimately familiar with Argentinian issues, even some of the language and slang choices are not used or understood outside of Argentina. Bunbury and Sabina, for example, are two Spaniards who make use of their extensive vocabulary in most of their lyrics, and still, their message is understood and easy to follow; they avoid falling into opaque and incomprehensible language. Therein lies the difference in the mainstream international appeal of artists like Bunbury and Sabina, where Calamaro, on the other hand, has a limited and off-center appeal in markets outside of Argentina and Spain.

This album won the Latin Grammy for Best Pop/Rock Album of the year, which I do not believe it deserved, and it also won Best Rock Song for Verdades Afiladas, which it also did not deserve. Look, in the past, Calamaro made three incredible records, three records that I consider to be very important, essential and iconic Rock en Español albums; Alta Suciedad (1997), Honestidad Brutal(1999) and El Salmon (2000). Everything else that he has made since has been from pretty good to mediocre. For Example, El Cantante (2004), a non-rock en Español album made up of classic covers of iconic Latin songs and three original tracks. It was a very refreshing departure from his previous albums, I bought El Cantante on CD when it was first released, and I continue to enjoy it ’till this day. Lengua Popular (2007), was a huge commercial success and it was lyrically the closest thing to his earlier work. On the Rock (2010) was another ambitious undertaking where he collaborated with a bunch of different artists like Bunbury, Calle 13, Diego El Cigala to name a few, and even dived into more popular Latin rhythms like cumbia and even some reggaeton. Nevertheless, it was not a remarkable achievement, and it fell flat compared to previous releases. Bohemio (2013) was a forgettable and lazy album. Romaphonic Sessions (Volumen 11, 2016), was a stripped-down studio album recording where Calamaro is only accompanied by a piano, performing a mix of covers and a few of his own, it was an interesting experiment but inconsequential.

Cargar la Suerte Track List:

Track 1-Verdades Afiladas: This track was the first single, and it sounds like a classic Calamaro tune, the closest thing in this album to his previous work. And the lyrics have a quick references to older hits like Te Quiero Igual (Honestidad brutal, ’99) and Las Oportunidades (El Cantante, ’04).
Track 2- Transito Lento: The Saxophone stands out beautifully on this track. Waiting around patiently to travel from place to place and the life of the traveling musician is the main message here. Solid track.
Track 3-Cuarteles de Invierno: The theme here is about returning to Argentina during the cold winter, full of songs and full of nostalgia. It’s a very gratifying rock ballad.
Track 4-Diego Armando Canciones: This song is a mellow and measured ballad. A reflection of how Calamaro currently sees himself as a musician and as a human being. While at the same time addressing some of his detractors.
Track 5-Las Rimas: The most daring track of this album, where Calamaro Raps, rants and rages. Although this is a rap song, there are no hip-hop beats here, its electric guitar-driven, and it works nicely.
Track 6-Siete Vidas: This is one of the best tracks of this album. Fast-paced, up-tempo, a throwback to Calamaro of years past.
Track 7-Mi Ranchera: A passionate and emotional ballad.
Track 8-Falso LV: Fake Louis Vuitton is what the title of this track means. References all the fake rockeros out there, and the hypocrisy of our times. This is a song that would’ve fit perfectly on either Honestidad Brutal or Alta Suciedad.
Track 9- My Mafia: An acoustic and personal ballad, a heart to heart to the value of friendships.
Track 10-Adan Rechaza: Another fast-paced, up-tempo electric guitar-driven track. Very much in the spirit of Calamaro’s older work. It is a manifesto to living his life on his terms even after his death in the afterlife.
Track 11-Egoistas: Pop-rock en Español at its finest.
Track 12-Voy a Volver: It’s a beautiful ballad. The promise of an eventual return home. The idea of leaving things behind, seeing the world and learning along the way how to return home. There is a hidden instrumental track a few seconds after track 12 ends……

All in all, this is a good rock en Español album. It is not an instant classic as Calamaro’s previous work from the ‘90s and early 2000s, but it is still a solid achievement. Nevertheless, considering the standard Calamaro set for himself over twenty years ago, Cargar la Suerte was not deserving of a Latin Grammy for Best Pop/Rock Album of the year. The Latin Grammy Academy has a long history of bestowing this award to the biggest name in the list of nominees regardless of the quality of the work. In the previous award ceremony (2017), Juanes was awarded the Best Pop/Rock Album for Mis Planes Son Amarte, which was a joke of an album, but Juanes was the most popular name within all the nominees. In 2016 Los Fabulosos Cadillacs won in the same category, and it was far from their best work, but once again, they were the most prominent name within the list of nominees. There is a vast disconnect between the people in charge of selecting the nominees and the people voting for the winner.

Calamaro fancies himself as the Rock en Español’s version of Bob Dylan, which he is not. The closest thing we have in Spanish Rock to Dylan is Joaquin Sabina. My issues with Calamaro as of late is that as an icon of Rock en Español, he tends to take himself way too seriously sometimes, calling himself a rockstar every chance he gets, and of course, he is a rockstar. However, on the other hand, you have rockeros like Enrique Bunbury and Mikel Erentxun who do not have to go around shouting to the wind about being a rockstar, and they both embody the rockstar persona without any self-promoting antics. Bunbury and Erentxun keep on making records that sound and feel different from their previous work; they are continually pushing the boundaries, while Calamaro continues on repeating the same formula over and over again, erecting altars to his long-past glory days, and Cargar la suerte is a clear reflection of all of his past work and all of his past glory; A good album but not a great one.

*ALBUM RECAP — DRACO ROSA: Vagabundo22 (LP, Reissue)

In 1996, Draco Rosa released the album Vagabundo which I still consider to be the most essential record made in the entire decade of the 1990s within the Rock en Español music scene. Indeed, other musicians/bands made important contributions to Spanish Rock, like Andres Calamaro (Alta Suciedad, 1997 & Honestidad Brutal, 1999), Caifanes (El Diablito, 1990, El Silencio, 1992 & El Nervio del Volcan, 1994), Los Fabulosos Cadillacs (Rey Azúcar, 1995 & Fabulosos Calavera, 1997), Enanitos Verdes (Big Bang, 1994 & Nectar, 1999), Jaguares (El Equilibrio de Los Jaguares, 1996 & Bajo El Azul de Tu Misterio, 1999), La Ley (Invisible, 1995). All of those albums are essential and iconic records, But Draco Rosa’s Vagabundo was in a league of its own.

Vagabundo was utterly different from everything else coming out into the Spanish Rock market during the ’90s, and nothing else sounded quite like it. The album was a rollercoaster ride of psychedelic rock, wrapped in raw melodies of love, solitude, desolation, and melancholy. The album was recorded in England and produced by Phil Manzanera, who by that time had already collaborated with other Rock en Español artists like Fito Paez (Circo beat, 1994), Heroes del Silencio (Senderos de Traicion, 1990 & El Espirito del Vino, 1993) as well as Aterciopelados (La Pipa de la Paz, 1996) and with the late Antonio Vega (Océano de Sol, 1994).  Phil Manzanera understands the soul of rock en Español music, and it clearly shows in the records that he has produced.

After 22 years since the release of Vagabundo, we finally have a remastered version and a limited release vinyl LP. It was remastered by the legendary Bob Ludwig (U2, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Nirvana, Paul McCarney). This is truly a unique and special release — additionally, this newly remastered edition takes it to another level.

Here is a quick rundown of all the tracks on the album:

 

Hablando del Amor: Not really a song, just an intro track. You get the sense of where the record is taking you; you can hear sounds of a forest in the background followed by some poetic lines.

Madre Tierra: This is an excellent rock song, guitars, drums, and Draco’s powerful voice turn this song into a beautiful, fast tempo rock anthem.

Llanto Subterráneo: This track is a beautiful poem wrapped in melody. Slower tempo than the previous track, but the song still maintains a powerful rock vibe with some dark undertones and very intense lyrics.

Vagabundo: This is a more acoustic sounding track, where all you get is guitar, Draco’s voice, and some background vocals. The lyrics are powerful, intense, and there is a touch of occult undertones in the meaning of the lyrics here.

Penelope: This song reminds me of Joan Manuel Serrat’s “Penelope,” but told from a different point of view; while Serrat’s Penelope was told from the point of view of a narrator, this song is told from the point of view of the traveler longing for the love he left behind. This is a beautiful song, one of my favorites.

Delirios: Here, we go back to a faster-paced tempo, more massive sound. Draco displays his great rocker frontman talent while at the same time keeping up with some powerful guitar and drums.

Para No Olvidar: Death, life, and desolation are the themes of this track. It starts slow, setting up the psychedelic mood with a sweet melody; we go from slow to fast and heavy multiple times. This is an intense song.

Blanca Mujer: The closest thing to a rock ballad in this entire album. Piano and guitar in the background create a compelling and persuasive companion to Draco’s voice. I consider this song a classic in Draco Rosa’s catalog.

Vertigo: Another dark and psychedelic sounding track shows a feeling of rawness and heaviness in Draco’s voice that works beautifully on this song.

Vivir: Probably the most personal track on this albumIt starts with a piano intro that feels straight out of a carnival stage show or circus, then the song takes on the first-person narrative, stating Draco’s journey from Popstar to freeing himself from the shackles of stardom and into becoming the artist he longs to be.

Brujería: A mix of psychedelic and gothic vibe give this track a unique sound and energy. Draco’s furious intensity makes this track one of the very best on this album. The guitars are also superb.

La Flor del Frio: This is a raw sounding track that works beautifully as a change of pace from the rest of the album. A piano accompanies Draco. There is a crowd of people talking and clapping in the background, which gives this track a unique feel and vibe. The raw and melancholic melody is the star of this song.

Amantes Hasta el Fin: This song sums up the theme of this album perfectly. It has it all; a beautiful melody, lyrics of love, desolation, death, and despair. Draco’s singing takes you on a ride from a mellow vibe to furious rage. The entire surrealism of the album is best displayed here.

Vertigo22: This track is a gem straight from Vagabundo’s recording studio archives. It is raw, powerful, and heavier than the album version. The song sounds completely different.

Madre Tierra22: This version of Madre Tierra sounds more like a demo, and at the same time, it has a raw and organic feel to it than the album version. Another gem from the PHVX Vault.

*Carlos Ann-Mapa Mental (Album Recap)

El mas reciente disco de Carlos Ann (Mapa Mental, 2018), es fácilmente uno de mis discos favoritos de lo que va de este año. Carlos es uno de esos músicos que se podria incluir en la lista de los artistas que son parte del movimiento Rock Indie en Español. Carlos es un músico con un estilo muy peculiar y en este disco podemos disfrutar de ese estilo surrealista rockero que muy pocos pueden lograr de una manera orgánica y  honesta. Este es un disco super corto con solo 8 canciones pero con mucho sentimiento y poderío musical, con un toque experimental muy interesante, tiene una duración de 34 minutos. Lo recomiendo muchísimo.

Track List:

1.París Aísa, Barcelona, Calella: Un tema con una instrumentacion interesante, es una excelente introducción al resto del disco. “De norte a sur repasando mi historia no es original, pero es la mia y la vivo como algo perverso soy un marqués desheredado.”

2. Las Hormigas Enloquecen: Probablemente mi canción favorita del disco. “El sol en la terraza, mi madre cantando Mientras hacia la… comida / Quizás escribo para no leer Camino sin rumbo para no… regresar / Siento que mi alma está cansada De comprenderme-la entiendo.”

3. La Prision No Nos salvo: Aparte de la letra, la bateria es la protagonista de esta canción. “El tiempo ya no es sincero, No deja las cosas en su sitio, Es un viejo desordenado.”

4. Arthur Cravan feat. Abraham Boba: Esta canción poco a poco se esta convirtiendo en una de mis favoritas de este disco. Tiene un aire a Pink Floyd y Bowie “No me acuerdo de los nombres de las personas Los sonidos y olores son mi referencia Deslizándome por la vida, ya soy un hombre maduro.”

5. Berlin Feat. Shuarma: Sintetizadores, guitarra eléctrica, batería; esta es quizás la canción mas experimental del disco. “Empezábamos temprano como si algo se fuera a acabar,Gente extraña que entraba y salía sin preguntar, Decenas de copias de las llaves trafican por la ciudad.”

6. Nuestro Amor Fue Un Fracaso: Excelente tema, Me recuerda un poco a varias canciones de Calamaro (Honestidad Brutal).Paso la noche sin ti Nuestro amor fue un fracaso Y prefiero recordarlo Y no tengo nada mejor que hacer Que dar vueltas, por mi cabeza Y llegar hasta ti.”

7. Cientos: Esta canción tiene un feeling super trippy al estilo Pink Floyd. “Tus senos fueron mi refugio Dejé todo, fui a vivir a las montañas Como un exiliado que regresa a su tierra No tengo casa y no tengo nombre.”

8. Todo Es Para Bien feat. Alejandro Jodorowski: Este track es basicamente un poema envuelto en melodía, una manera super interesante de concluir un album tan original. “Poeta perseguido por cuarenta egos Creyendo ver la luz pero ciego En el peso de la carne En la logica del tonto.