The Ups and Downs of Carlos Santana
Part Four: Moonflower
First Appeared at The Music Box, January 2004, Volume 11, #1
Written by John Metzger
No matter what one thinks of Carlos Santana’s studio efforts, one must agree that his concerts have always been something special. It seems strange, then, that it took so long for him to release a live album, though this wasn’t for lack of trying. In 1973, he recorded several of his concerts in Japan, but Lotus, the resulting collection, was only made available abroad. It wasn’t until 1977’s Moonflower that the U.S. market received its first package of live material from Carlos Santana. As it turned out, it not only was his last recording to reach the Top Ten (until 1999’s Supernatural), but it also spawned his first Top 40 single in five years — a cover of The Zombies’ She’s Not There — while selling more than ten million copies worldwide.
Unfortunately, Moonflower is a song cycle without a cohesive identity. Issued as a double album, it features a series of concert cuts intermingled with studio selections, and the result of this juxtaposition is incredibly jarring. It’s partially a live album, partially a greatest hits collection, partially a commercially viable studio product, partially a jazz-fusion experiment, and partially the blues-oriented rock band of old. Because of this attempt to be all things to all people, however, it just doesn’t work — sales statistics, notwithstanding.
For the most part, all of Moonflower’s studio cuts suffer the same fate as Santana’s albums from this period. They are all overly slick, and the tunes feel like they are being forced to fit within a predetermined mold, occasionally fading out before reaching their peak. Most successful is, of course, the organic, fiery interpretation of She’s Not There as well as the splendid Flor D’Luna, but placed alongside the live material significantly undermines their standing within Santana’s formidable canon.
It’s on the expanded concert cuts that Moonflower most frequently succeeds. Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile) is absolutely gorgeous, riding the graceful beauty of Santana’s guitar and touching the soul in a most affecting manner, and sparks fly on Soul Sacrifice and a pairing of Savor with Toussaint L’Overture. Even so, Moonflower is far from being the quintessential live set. Fortunately, Lotus did eventually see the light of day in America, as did the brilliant archival release Live at the Fillmore, 1968. The reissue of Moonflower features three bonus tracks — Black Magic Woman, I’ll Be Waiting, and She’s Not There — each of which is presented in its edited (for release as a single) format, meaning they are for collectors only.
Of Further Interest...
Moonflower is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box