Stephen Stills – Manassas (1973)

AllMusic Review: A sprawling masterpiece, akin to the Beatles’ White Album, the Stones’ Exile on Main St., or Wilco’s Being There in its makeup, if not its sound. Rock, folk, blues, country, Latin, and bluegrass have all been styles touched on in Stephen Stills’ career, and the skilled, energetic musicians he had gathered in Manassas played them all on this album. What could have been a disorganized mess in other hands, though, here all gelled together and formed a cohesive musical statement. The songs are thematically grouped: part one (side one on the original vinyl release) is titled “The Raven,” and is a composite of rock and Latin sounds that the group would often perform in full live. “The Wilderness” mainly centers on country and bluegrass (Chris Hillman’s and Al Perkins’ talents coming to the forefront), with the track “So Begins the Task” later covered by Stills’ old flame Judy Collins. Part three, “Consider” is largely folk and folk-rock. “Johnny’s Garden,” reportedly for the caretaker at Stills’ English manor house and not for John Lennon as is often thought, is a particular highlight. Two other notables from the “Consider” section are “It Doesn’t Matter” (later redone with different lyrics by the song’s uncredited co-writer Rick Roberts on the first Firefall album) and “Move Around,” which features some of the first synthesizer used in a rock context. The closing section, titled “Rock & Roll Is Here to Stay,” is a rock and blues set with one of the landmarks of Manassas’ short life, the epic “The Treasure.” A sort of Zen-like meditation on love and “oneness,” enlivened by the band’s most inspired recorded playing it evolves into a bluesy groove washed in Stills’ fierce electric slide playing. The delineation lines of the four themed song groupings aren’t cut in stone, though, and one of the strengths of the album is that there is a lot of overlap in styles throughout. The CD reissue’s remastered sound is excellent, though missed is the foldout poster and handwritten lyrics from the original vinyl release. Unfortunately, the album has been somewhat overlooked over the years, even though Stills considers it some of the best work he has done. Bill Wyman (who guested on “The Love Gangster”) has said he would have quit the Rolling Stones to join Manassas. — Rob Caldwell

Track Listing:

All tracks are written by Stephen Stills, except where indicated.

Side one – The Raven
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Song of Love” 3:28
2. “Medley

  • Rock & Roll Crazies
  • Cuban Bluegrass”
  • Stills, Dallas Taylor
  • Stills, Joe Lala
3:34
3. “Jet Set (Sigh)” 4:25
4. “Anyway” 4:21
5. “Both of Us (Bound to Lose)” Stills, Chris Hillman 3:00
Total length: 17:48
Side two – The Wilderness
No. Title Length
6. “Fallen Eagle” 2:03
7. “Jesus Gave Love Away for Free” 2:59
8. “Colorado” 2:50
9. “So Begins the Task” 3:57
10. “Hide It So Deep” 2:44
11. “Don’t Look At My Shadow” 2:30
Total length: 17:03
Side three – Consider
No. Title Writer(s) Length
12. “It Doesn’t Matter” (original releases of Manassas do not credit Roberts as a co-author) Stills, Hillman, Rick Roberts 2:30
13. “Johnny’s Garden” 2:45
14. “Bound to Fall” (original releases of Manassas do not credit Mastin as a co-author) Mike Brewer, Tom Mastin 1:53
15. “How Far” 2:49
16. “Move Around” 4:15
17. “The Love Gangster” Stills, Bill Wyman 2:51
Total length: 16:53
Side four – Rock & Roll Is Here to Stay
No. Title Length
18. “What to Do” 4:44
19. “Right Now” 2:58
20. “The Treasure (Take One)” 8:03
21. “Blues Man” (in tribute: Jimi Hendrix, Al Wilson, Duane Allman) 4:04
Total length: 19:49

 

Schill Score:   8/10

 

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Stephen Stills – Stephen Stills (1970)

AllMusic Review: Talk about understatement — there’s Stephen Stills on the cover, acoustic guitar in hand, promising a personal singer/songwriter-type statement. And there is some of that — even a lot of that personal music-making — on Stephen Stills, but it’s all couched in astonishingly bold musical terms. Stephen Stills is top-heavy with 1970 sensibilities, to be sure, from the dedication to the memory of Jimi Hendrix to the now piggish-seeming message of “Love the One You’re With.” Yet, listening to this album three decades on, it’s still a jaw-dropping experience, the musical equal to Crosby, Stills & Nash or Déjà Vu, and only a shade less important than either of them. The mix of folk, blues (acoustic and electric), hard rock, and gospel is seamless, and the musicianship and the singing are all so there, in your face, that it just burns your brain (in the nicest, most benevolent possible way) even decades later. Recorded amid the breakup of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Stills’ first solo album was his effort to put together his own sound and, not surprisingly, it’s similar to a lot of stuff on the group’s two albums. But it’s also infinitely more personal, as well as harder and bluesier in many key spots; yet, it’s every bit as soft and as lyrical as the group in other spots, and all laced with a degree of yearning and urgency that far outstrips virtually anything he did with the group. “Love the One You’re With,” which started life as a phrase that Stills borrowed from Billy Preston at a party, is the song from this album that everybody knows, but it’s actually one of the lesser cuts here — not much more than a riff and an upbeat lyric and mood, albeit all of it infectious. “Do for the Others,” by contrast, is one of the prettiest and most moving pieces of music that Stills has ever been associated with, and “Church (Part of Someone)” showed him moving toward gospel and R&B (and good at it, too); and then there’s “Old Times Good Times,” musically as good a rock song as Stills has ever recorded (even if it borrows a bit from “Pre-Road Downs”), and featuring Jimi Hendrix on lead guitar. “Go Back Home” (which has Eric Clapton on guitar) is fine a piece of bluesy hard rock, while “Sit Yourself Down” features superb singing by Stills and a six-person backing chorus (that includes Cass Elliot, Graham Nash, and David Crosby) around a great tune. “To a Flame” is downright ethereal, while the live “Black Queen” is a superb piece of acoustic blues. All of this is presented by Stills in the best singing voice of his career up to that point, bolder, more outgoing, and more powerful (a result of his contact with Doris Troy) than anything in his previous output. He also plays lots of instruments (à la Crosby, Stills & Nash, which is another reason it sounds so similar to the group in certain ways), though a bit more organ than guitar, thanks to the presence of Hendrix and Clapton on two cuts. If the album has a flaw, it’s the finale, “We Are Not Helpless,” which slightly overstays its welcome. But hey, this was still the late ’60s, and excess was the rule, not the exception, and it’s such modest excess. — Bruce Eder

Track Listing

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Love the One You’re With” 3:04
2. “Do for the Others” 2:52
3. “Church (Part of Someone)” 4:05
4. “Old Times Good Times” 3:39
5. “Go Back Home” 5:54
Side two
No. Title Length
1. “Sit Yourself Down” 3:05
2. “To a Flame” 3:08
3. “Black Queen” 5:26
4. “Cherokee” 3:23
5. “We Are Not Helpless” 4:20

 

Schill Score: 9/10

 

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