Monday, June 11, 2012

Stephen Stills 3: Manassas

It should be no surprise that someone of Stephen Stills’ ego would arrive so quickly at the double album. While his name was the biggest, there were several key players collaborating, including Chris Hillman, confusing the Byrds-Buffalo Springfield family tree even further. But he’s definitely in charge, from his name twice on the front cover to his handwritten lyrics on the gigantic poster and the dreamy silhouette on the inner sleeves.
Manassas is the name of the album, as well as a catch-all moniker for the group. Basically Stills combined some of his favorite sidemen and created an album that’s much more in the spirit of playing than production. It’s a large ensemble, all credited on the cover, with several guitarists and the clattery percussion of Joe Lala smacking away.
Being a double album, each side is denoted as a specific suite. Side one, or “The Raven”, connects five songs without a break, mostly Southern California rockin’ boogie. Something of a departure arrives at the end of the side with “Both Of Us (Bound To Lose)”, sung by Hillman and Stills over a melody borrowed from Neil Young’s “The Loner”, ending with a salsa jam. With its country touches, the side dubbed “The Wilderness” must have thrilled Hillman no end, beginning with the bluegrass “Fallen Eagle” hiding an anti-war lyric. “Jesus Gave Love Away For Free” sounds like one of CSN’s better moments, while “So Begins The Task” should have been.
Side three, or “Consider”, is the strongest, beginning with “It Doesn’t Matter”, sung in close harmony and sporting a tasty Stills solo over vibes. “Johnny’s Garden” is a simple appreciation of the simple life, while Hillman had been trying to record the tricky “Bound To Fall” for years. Even the appearance of a Moog here and on “Move Around” works as color without crowding. Bill Wyman appears on “The Love Gangster”, and gets co-writing credit. Side four insists that “Rock & Roll Is Here To Stay”, and who are we to argue? At eight minutes, “The Treasure” (pointedly subtitled “Take One”) has all the potential to be overblown, but manages to keep churning without flagging. And on the closing “Blues Man”, Stills doesn’t dare put himself on the same level of those to whom he’s paying tribute.
As long as it is (over seventy minutes) Manassas provides quite a bit of quality, while cramming in each of Stills’ pet styles. It’s also a nice throwback to a time when an album could be experienced as a set of sides, rather than in one big chunk. On CD (or via stream) the listener isn’t as tasked with flipping and swapping discs, but that’s not to say it rivals, say, Exile On Main St. for an enhanced experience when listening to it all straight through without pause. It could easily have been reduced for a really tight single LP, but excess ruled the day.

Stephen Stills Manassas (1972)—3

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