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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

So Natural

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Nov
So Natural
Sounds like … the Latin spunk of Los Lobos and the Gypsy Kings, the jam-based dynamics of Dave Matthews Band and Burlap to Cashmere, and the Tex-Mex rock of Los Lonely BoysAt a glance … So Natural is without a doubt the closest you can get to the true "Salvador sound," an explosive concoction of fun, funk, and flavorTrack ListingCan You Feel (The Supernatural)You Are ThereThis Is My LifeHeavenIt Comes Back to YouCover MeFor More Than OurselvesFabricatedLet It Be SaidGlimpse of His HeartSo NaturalLa Palabra (live)

Forget what you know about Salvador for a moment. Since their surprising debut in 2000, the Latin-spiced powerhouse has gone through many changes, both in personnel and stylistic tendencies. The then quintet turned many a head with their self-titled debut, a Santana-informed fiesta that served as a good introduction to their craft, but which boasted too much outside input—including that of producers, writers, and session musicians-to be credited entirely to the band. Then in 2002 came the disappointing Into Motion, an album that faintly hinted at their promising beginnings, but which succumbed under homogenized and programmed Christian pop tactics. Luckily, the boys found redemption with 2003's Con Poder, an organic Spanish-language effort that saw them revisiting their Hispanic roots. This quest for identity served as the perfect stepping stone for Worship Live, an album that inched even closer to their sound of today, despite leaning too heavily on worship covers.

But Salvador has learned from its mistakes, and that's evident in So Natural, their third album of original, English-language studio material. There's progress in every aspect of the process, from arrangements and song construction to Nic Gonzalez's throaty tenor and the way he approaches songwriting. The band has once again teamed up with Chris Rodriguez for production duties, but this time he seems more hands-off as he doesn't interfere the way he and Pete Kipley did on Into Motion, resulting in a much more natural, live-band feel.

One needs not look further than "Can You Feel (The Supernatural)" to realize that the band has seen a transformation. They're still a Latin-pop outfit at their core, but if you break this song into its basic components, you'll hear some funk, some Rock En Español a la Molotov or Café Tacuba, and even a bit of Dave Matthews Band. In "Fabricated," they move effortlessly from jazz-inflected lounge pop to progressive salsa, with a lyric that ponders the puzzling nature of God. On "Let It Be Said," the guys are even capable of impersonating the oh-so-funky Red Hot Chili Peppers at their best.

Even in terms of songwriting quality, Salvador outdoes all of its previous efforts by kicking the level of lyricism up a notch. Whereas past material was largely vertical and praise-filled, it relied too heavily on simplistic sentiments and was not as avant-garde as the music that accompanied it. This time around, primary songwriter Gonzalez and his co-writers went to great lengths to make the tunes more memorable, and the poetry is above average, even when they're doing the worship thing. Examples are the syncopated "Glimpse of His Heart" ("A subtle innuendo that lifts you from the dark/Shows you a part of someone that you never knew/Living deep inside of you") and the bohemian "It Comes Back to You" (co-penned by Cindy Morgan), which ponders the sow-reap principle of Galatians 6.

Amidst all this originality, the only head-scratcher on the album is a cover of "Heaven," the recent mainstream pop hit by Los Lonely Boys. Musically, it's a fine rendition—if not a bit too verbatim—that'll resonate with Salvador's core audience, but is it necessary? Its inclusion is curious because the album has enough self-penned compositions to ride on, like the white-hot "You Are There" or the lovely "This Is My Life," and for the label to have chosen "Heaven" as the first single, one must wonder if their intentions were to showcase the band's talent or to simply get a quick radio hit.

All in all, however, So Natural finds the Salvador boys so naturally comfortable in their own skin that one can rightfully call them the best thing to happen to Christian music since Burlap to Cashmere fell off the face of the earth. People have been comparing the two bands for a while now, but this time the comparison is not so much based on sonic dynamics as much as how good and cohesive they sound playing together. The album is a total blast to listen to and finally puts that long-used "the best live band in Christian music" line in a recorded context. Once again, "Buen trabajo, chicos!" (For the Español-challenged, that would be, "Good work, boys!")