Santana – ‘Moonflower’

Now I’m in my fifties I like to think of myself as musically open-minded. As the decades passed and my juvenile prejudices departed, I opened up to music I’d previously derided. That said, everyone has their personal likes and dislikes, and for most of my fifty odd years I’ve had an aversion to what I’m going to lazily call hair metal (let’s choose Whitesnake as an example) with shit songs full of fake sentiment. Similarly and around the same time guitar virtuosos like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen, whilst being technically brilliant, did not make music to or for my ears. Too much posturing and not enough soul. But that’s just me.

So, I say all that because Carlos Santana can gurn and throw rock god shapes with the best of them, posing with aplomb. But – and that’s a huge and very important but – he emanates soul and radiates sincerity. In 1989 I’ve no idea how Santana’s Moonflower came to me, but when it found me it blew me away. Released in 1977 it’s an epic, full-blown, four-sided spiritual voyage into a carnival fusion of rock, latin and jazz. Part live, part studio, it felt so warm I would hug the glorious, gatefolded beauty as I played it.

The three live tracks on side one: Carnaval, Let The Children Play and Jugando were new musical territory for me. I loved the euphoric and uplifting sound, like a fifteen piece band of amigos in full flow, rhythmically and magically in perfect harmony. I’ll Be Waiting followed the euphoria and is a perfect example of Carlos Santana radiating soul and sincerity. Just gorgeous. Side two continued the transcendental theme, but then somehow side three found another notch, somewhere in the clouds.

Santana’s version of The Zombie’s She’s Not There is unreal, with the mix of Carlos’ phenomenal guitar, wailing keys and electrifying percussion taking the song to a different world. We’re brought back down to heaven on earth with the sublime Flor d’Luna (Moonflower), only to be sent back sky high with Soul Sacrifice/Head, Hands & Feet, a 14 minute live jam and simply one of the best live instrumentals I’ve ever heard. Graham Lear’s drumming is astounding, but then so is everything. Virtuoso overload.

For me, sides one and three wore out my needle. The other two were great, and Moonflower ends with Savor/Toussaint l’Overture, another outpouring of Latin dynamism and flair, but the album rarely got a start to finish play in all of its near 90 minute glory. I was lucky enough to see Santana a couple of years later at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, but that’s another story…

Carole King – ‘Tapestry’

There are albums that define careers, even those as incredible as Carole King’s. One of the most successful songwriters of all time, having written dozens of hits for other artists including the classic (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman for Aretha Franklin and Pleasant Valley Sunday for The Monkees, both in 1967. Tapestry is her masterpiece, a stunningly blissful album, totally alluring for anyone with a heart, and particularly one that’s fragile.

In the early ‘70s the likes of Neil Young, James Taylor, Paul Simon and Randy Newman were writing deeply personal, introspective songs. There was a certain Laurel Canyon vibe in 1971, post-hippy and spiritual, songs capturing real life, acoustic with sparse musical arrangement. Tapestry, with Carole King living there at the time, captured that vibe perfectly. Unlike other troubadours like Dylan and Joni Mitchell, Tapestry’s lyrics were straightforward and unembellished. Carole King had a supreme gift in her ability to use simple phrasing, and the same talent to nail a sentiment, to capture the fragility of romance, relationships and love.

“Stayed in bed all mornin’ just to pass the time
There’s somethin’ wrong here, there can be no denyin’
One of us is changin’, or maybe we’ve just stopped tryin’
And it’s too late, baby now, it’s too late
Though we really did try to make it
Somethin’ inside has died, and I can’t hide
And I just can’t fake it, oh, no, no”

– It’s Too Late

From my teens and into my early twenties and largely influenced by the music I’d been listening to, I was becoming more reflective and ruminative, still dealing with shyness despite having a fairly lively social life. Tapestry struck a personal chord. That Laurel Canyon scene in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was primarily a stoned, laid-back amalgamation of blues, country, psychedelia and folk. It was the original Americana, and with the likes of The Doors, CSNY, Frank Zappa, Mamas and the Papas and Joni Mitchell all doing their thing, it was an era and musical landscape I dived into.

Tapestry is lyrically unguarded, bleeding the warmth and spirit of the early ‘70s, stripping back any fuss to fully expose the intense emotion and vulnerability. Carole King’s ability to write a near perfect album is matched by the overwhelming sincerity in her vocals and the jazz-tinged warmth of the production. For me this was, and still is an album almost impossible not to love.