Santana -- _The Best of Santana_ (Columbia/Legacy)

In celebration of Santana's 30th anniversary, Columbia/Legacy has released the single-CD retrospective "The Best of Santana." The title is much more appropriate here than on most similarly-named albums; the best of Santana's career couldn't possibly fit on a single disc, but this package is excellent by any standards and a giant step forward from past Santana compilations. Bandleader Carlos Santana, the gifted guitarist and innovator who integrated Afro-Cuban, Mexican, blues, jazz, and soul elements into rock 'n' roll, finally has the anthology that he and many of his appreciative listeners have long deserved.

The song selection on the album is spectacular, making it easily the best collection for people who followed Santana on radio but didn't buy all their albums. It strikes a remarkable balance, emphasizing Santana's legendary early songs ("Evil Ways," "Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen," "Oye Como Va") while still giving due credit to their later hits ("She's Not There," "Winning," "Hold On"). Moreover, every track is a gem (with catchier singles gleaming especially bright) whose facets reflect Santana's instrumental brilliance. Carlos makes a guitar sing like few ever have, and this "Best of" lets that purity and passion shine throughout its 77 minutes.

Other features of the package are also very impressive, particularly the Family Tree of Santana (drawn by Pete Frame, whose work graces many fine boxed sets), entertainingly and informatively mapping every personnel change in the band through 1984. Overall, the tremendous care and effort that Legacy Music put into the details of this release have paid off: "The Best of Santana" is more than just the best single CD available for most people who enjoy Santana songs, it is one of the best "Best of" packages in recent memory. It is a magnificent introduction for those unfamiliar with Santana's musical vision and a nearly essential album for any classic rock devotee.

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