At the time of this 2005 compilation, Carlos Santana had appeared on a lot of records by other artists -- around 60, according to the liner notes of this release. A multi-disc anthology of these guest appearances would be impractical, and not especially desirable. Playin' with Carlos does offer 15 tracks Santana guested on between 1969 and 1997, though licensing obstacles prevented the inclusion of some of his most high-profile contributions, such as the ones he made to recordings by Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, and Lauryn Hill. Though this CD does contain cuts by some big or fairly big names (John McLaughlin, Stanley Clarke, McCoy Tyner, Michael Bloomfield and Al Kooper), it's a bit of a ragtag batch of odds and ends that doesn't make for especially good listening. The jump between fusion, pop, world music, new age, and Latin rock styles is a bumpy ride, but a greater problem is the blandness of much of the material, particularly when Santana is stepping outside of his trademark, fiery jazz-blues-Latin rock blend and just adding some spice to unremarkable records. Certainly for Santana fans, at times the only moments of interest here are his guitar parts, and while these have his trademark sound, they aren't often especially memorable. Exceptions are Clyde Criner's "Behind the Sun," where Santana unleashes a searing solo near the end, and Giants' "Fried Neckbones and Home Fries" (which Santana, the band, did in their early days), where Carlos suddenly seems at home and in his element, peeling off some real burning lines.
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger