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So Natural - Click to view!Fresh on the heels of their Dove Award-nominated live album/DVD, Worship Live, Salvador returns to the studio with a sense of purpose and still more line-up changes on their third English language release, So Natural. Like many Christian acts, the pressures of time away from home proved difficult to overcome for former members Art Gonzales (Drums), Billy Griego (Trumpet), and Elliot Torres (Percussion). Replacing them, respectively, are Robert Acuña, Jared Solis, and Esteban Lopez. The band, which was large at the previous seven members, also adds a second guitarist to the lineup in Joel Cavazos. Resulting from the infusion of new talent is a further refining of an already smooth sound. Readily apparent is the control the group was able to exhibit over its material in the studio. By taking a proactive approach to the recording process, Salvador was better able to capture the sound and excitement of their trademark live performances on this project than on any of their previous works.

With a sizable collaboration of musicians in the group, there has always been a wide range of styles and influences evident in the band music, much of it reflective of their Latin heritage. Unfortunately, what has largely gone missing on this album are the Salsa rhythms and flavor of earlier recordings. The lone exception is a recycled cut from Con Poder called "La Palabra." ("The Word") Instead, we see more of a guitar-based, adult contemporary style jazz and R&B. This new "grown-up" sound, while more sophisticated, is also closer to the sterile pop that record labels continue to force on the public. I miss the excitement I heard in Nic's voice on Into Motion and even their debut album. This sounds more like crooning. Memo to Nic: You have a wonderfully unique voice. Do us all a favor and don't try to hide the rasp behind sugary sweet presentations.

For all my disappointment at what I think is a sub-par Salvador production, this album still has merits that make it worthwhile. There's a taste of the familiar in the opener, "Can You Feel (The Supernatural)." This song is the answer to people who question the purpose of life: "Look around and see the wonders of His hand / There's a plan, there's no one here by circumstance / I believe that no one is here by chance." The only thing we have to offer our Lord is a heartfelt spirit of submission and gratitude, which is the subject of "This Is My Life." In it, Nic sings: "This is my life / This is my song / I'll give it to you / No matter the cost / This is my heart / That seeks after you / Lord help me love / More like you do." It's a wonderful ballad made better by the incorporation of the traditional hymn, "How Great Thou Art."

Track 4 is a special treat, as well as a stylistic breakpoint on the album. Taking a song from fellow Austin, TX natives Los Lonely Boys, the group performs an "unplugged" version of the radio hit "Heaven." It's unplugged in the sense that it is stripped down and rearranged; it isn't performed with strictly acoustic instruments. They took a great song and pretty much performed it as originally done. Not bad, but I had hoped for more. "For More Than Ourselves" is a Texas blues-turned-rock number that revels in the comfort and wonder of knowing God, but also expresses how that knowledge affects how we think of ourselves with such lyrics as: "To know who you are / There's no greater feeling / Without a doubt / To be where you are / There's no greater place / Than your embrace / And to me you'll forever be."

I've been a fan of these guys from the moment I first picked up a copy of Into Motion on a whim. I've been anxiously awaiting a new album for some time, and now that it's here, I'm a little disappointed. It's not a poor offering, but it isn't what I've come to know as Salvador. It certainly doesn't reflect the sound they've built a reputation on. But the guys seem to think this is a better representation of themselves than ever before, based on the title, so who am I to judge? I'll survive; I have copies of their earlier CDs, but I'm left hoping that there is more of the "old" in the next "new" release.
- Scott Bush
March 2005
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