Monday, April 16, 2012

Stephen Stills 2: Stephen Stills 2

Following in the tradition of Chicago and Led Zeppelin, Stills’ second album chose a simple title. And like his first solo album, Stephen Stills 2 presented the auteur in a variety of musical situations, dabbling in folk, blues, rock, and even R&B.
The lilting “Change Partners” waltzes over a crisp acoustic strum, decorated by a pedal steel supposedly played by Jerry Garcia, before switching to 4/4 for the choruses. “Nothin’ To Do But Today” stutters along into another guitar duel with Eric Clapton, but the mysterious “Fishes And Scorpions” is a particularly striking departure. “Sugar Babe” is sunk by its lyrics, which is too bad, but the arrangement is excellent. “Know You Got To Run” would appear to be an early version of what mutated into “Everybody I Love You”. Its stark presentation contrasts with the big production of “Open Secret”, with a horn section that veers dangerously close to Blood Sweat & Tears territory, switching gears at the end for a piano workout that gives way to a minute long conga solo.
If you have the vinyl, it’s just as easy to drop the needle back on the beginning of side one as many times as deemed necessary. That will not likely be the case with side two. Despite a tasty opening lick, “Relaxing Town” is an obnoxious plea to “get away from it all.” “Singin’ Call” is a more palatable modal acoustic tune, then the horns blare in for more preaching on “Ecology Song”. There may be those who enjoy horn sections, particularly those where the trumpets are played so forcefully that the notes are always a little off, but we’re not among them. He rants some more on “Word Game”, distracting from the fingerpicking, and we can’t empathize when he complains of the rich getting richer. “Marianne” is a leap in the absolute opposite direction, a mindless pop tune. Another throwback comes in the grand production of “Bluebird Revisited”. With a dramatic organ intro, mopey lyrics, a choir and, of course, the horns, it unfortunately removes what made the Buffalo Springfield original so cool.
In the time since the splintering of CSNY, Stills was the most prolific, but quantity did not equal quality. Still, he never relied on others to help him make studio decisions, so he continued on his own way. It’s too bad, because some variety as brought out by some of his fellow travelers could have helped improve Stephen Stills 2. It’s the consistency in side one that keeps this album from being rated lower.

Stephen Stills Stephen Stills 2 (1971)—3

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