Friday, May 2, 2014

Stephen Stills 11: Man Alive

On his first solo album since the fleeting Stills Alone, Stephen Stills still didn’t have a major label deal. Yet he corralled some of favorite sidemen, such as Joe Vitale, Mike Finnegan, and George “Chocolate” Perry, and managed to fill up a CD called Man Alive!
While the otherwise detailed credits leave this information out, some of the material had been around for a while. At the very least, his vocals on the opening “Ain’t It Always” are exponentially clearer than his mushmouthed delivery on everything else. (We know we’ve used that adjective a lot, but until we find another, it will have to do.) This sinks another otherwise promising track like “Hearts Gate”, wherein he’s accompanied by an acoustic guitar plugged into the recording console for a rather sterile-sounding result. On “Piece Of Me”, a blues harp helps balance the sound.
Even the songs with real drums sound canned, starting with the excruciatingly island-tinged “Feed The People”. While touting a “special appearance by Neil Young,” “Round The Bend” features Stills on everything else save Russ Kunkel’s basic percussive pattern. Neil shows up again on “Different Man”, a welcome duet, but there’s no need for another recording of “Drivin’ Thunder”. Meanwhile, a similar “special appearance by Graham Nash” on the co-written “Wounded World” isn’t about to set the world on fire.
There are still a few moments that give hope for what could have been. “Acadienne” is a pleasant Cajun strum sung partially in Creole that thankfully keeps the accordion low in the mix, though the croaking frogs over the fade are unnecessary. “Ole Man Trouble” (the Booker T. Jones tune, and not the Otis Redding song) is a step in the right direction for his voice. And while daring in both design and length, “Spanish Suite” manages to stay interesting over its eleven minutes, partially thanks to a contribution by Herbie Hancock, and despite Stills’ ongoing insistence in singing in Spanish.
Once upon a time Stephen Stills had a voice that matched his instrumental dexterity. But after decades of performing, aging, and likely drug and alcohol abuse, his grizzled approach doesn’t match contemporary arrangements. Other artists of his age and longevity have learned to adapt, yet Man Alive! proves he’s hasn’t.

Stephen Stills Man Alive! (2005)—2

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