Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Stephen Stills 12: Pieces

The outfit Stephen Stills called Manassas had a lot of potential, but had imploded before really reaching it. Stills and main partner Chris Hillman were increasingly distracted by their legacies and other collaborators to sustain it past the year they were together. (These ears felt Hillman was unfairly kept to second fiddle status anyway.)
So in a year when Crosby, Stills & Nash were celebrating their fortieth anniversary (and Graham Nash and Neil Young put out their own box sets), it was nice for Stills to curate a third, lost Manassas album. Pieces presents a deeper glimpse at the band’s potential, touching on all the genres they attempted to cover while they were together. It also gives more though not equal time to Hillman.
Some of these are alternate versions, but not alternate takes per se. “Witching Hour” and “Like A Fox” are absolute gems astoundingly left off the first album; “Sugar Babe” is an excellent improvement on the track from Stills’ second album, whereas “Word Game” is given an unnecessary shuffle. “Fit To Be Tied” would turn into “Shuffle Just As Bad” in a few years, while “My Love Is A Gentle Thing” had already been heard on the CSN box and was started in 1970 and finished in 1975, which doesn’t explain what it’s doing here. “High And Dry” goes from a “bluesman with my guitar” growl to a faster arrangement with what we assume is a canned audience cheering. “I Am My Brother” is Stills alone with his acoustic.
“Lies” is a rockin’ Hillman alternate, while “Love And Satisfy” shows another side of his talent. He likely leads a bluegrass detour through “Panhandle Rag”, “Uncle Pen”, and “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)”, including an alternate of “Do You Remember The Americans”, and including input from sometime Burrito Byron Berline. For contrast, the brief “Tan Sola Y Triste” instrumental fits the Latin side of the band.
Had some of these tracks made it to Down The Road, the band just might have endured longer. Or maybe not. At any rate, it’s a treat to have the material on Pieces available. Its length and quality illuminate its predecessors, and that was the point.

Manassas Pieces (2009)—3

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