Salvador: So Natural
Label: Word/Curb/Warner Bros.
Sound/Style: Distinctive yet eminently commercial Christian pop/rock with heavy Hispanic flavor
By Steve Morley
(UMCom)—The massive multi-generational success of rock guitar legend Carlos Santana in recent years is both deserved and a heartening sign of diversity in a pop music scene that tends to be generic and culturally compartmentalized. Not since the 1970s heyday of bands like War, Santana and Tower Of Power has so much Latin-influenced and racially mixed music made its way into the mainstream.
Nowhere is this stylistic combustion and authenticity more needed than in the contemporary Christian realm, where it is common practice to either cosmetically mask an artist’s potentially attractive anomalies or to apply a veneer of whitewashed grit to relatively mild-mannered worship music. Contemporary Christian artists like Jaci Velasquez and The Katinas have brought quality to the marketplace and have provided a welcome minority presence, but the deeply rooted Hispanic sound of Salvador has set a new benchmark. And while their unbridled energy emerged fully-blown on their self-titled CD of a few years back, the band’s songwriting and overall presentation has taken a near-quantum leap since then.
Lead vocalist Nic Gonzales is in line for the MVP award here, having co-produced the CD, co-written all 12 tracks and honed his delivery into one as confident and commercial as Steven Curtis Chapman’s, while still bringing a newcomer’s soul and spontaneity to the table. Alongside recent efforts by even the most respectable and established contemporary Christian acts, Salvador’s So Natural stands apart like the taste of Tabasco on tapioca.
Mention must be given to co-producer and Christian industry vet Chris Rodriguez, who serves as the ideal mentor to Gonzales and company, retaining the performers’ natural style and texture while maximizing their music’s accessibility. (Note: Rodriguez’ 2000 solo CD, Beggar’s Paradise, was an unheralded gem that is worth seeking out for fans of outside-the-box Christian pop/rock.)
A few tracks cater somewhat to the reality of radio requirements, such as the comparatively vanilla "This Is My Life," which briefly visits "How Great Thou Art," but maintains a gently percolating rhythm near-unimaginable to the first generation who ever heard that revered hymn. To their credit, the musicians rarely dilute their rhythmic and riff-heavy recipe, playing with guts and gusto. The horn section earns its pay with integral contributions a la Chicago or Earth, Wind & Fire. The blues-tinged guitar work is supple and soaring, and the rhythm section roars like it’s en route to a fire (though clearly not to extinguish it). On the live track "La Palabra" ("The Word"), they unleash a frenetic, Brazilian-influenced force that might even make King David embarrass himself while dancing to its dizzying beat.
Even when they tone things down for the Caucasian ear, they deftly straddle the line between spunky originality and mainstream appeal on cuts like "It Comes Back To You." The song breathes life into the tired cliche "Give your love away, it comes back to you" with its inner city setting and equal emphasis on the needy and the selfless. "Here’s to the reverend at the rescue mission who doesn’t judge a man by the way things seem," Gonzales sings, while the band meaningfully punctuates the end of the phrase with a second of dead silence. The track also takes a refreshing approach to politics (and perhaps the much-maligned President himself) that both supports and exhorts: "Here’s to the honest politician who wonders if the truth will set him free/you better use that God-given intuition and be the man God’s called you to be."
The lyrics tend to traverse simple but worshipful sentiments, as on "Far More Than Ourselves" and the declarative title cut, which focus on transformation both past and present. Still, they find a new twist in "Fabricated," which examines the seeming contradictions of experiencing the spirit life in a human suit: "It’s a simple complicated point of view/how you love me like you do." In similarly contradictory fashion, Salvador present a stylistically simple and complicated sound on So Natural that manages the unlikely, almost supernatural task of satisfying soul and spirit as well as body.
Steve Morley is a freelance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.
This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of the United Methodist Church.