Sunday, July 13, 2014

Manassas - Pieces (1971-73 us, remarkabale country folk classic rock, 2009 release)

Pieces is the perfect name for this new Manassas outtakes collection from Rhino.  Nobody had combined country, rock, salsa, blues, and bluegrass like Stephen Stills’ powerhouse 7-piece that formed out from the wake of CSNY and the Burrito Brothers, and their eponymous album was a disconnected smattering of “pieces” itself. This new hodgepodge of unheard treats may be scattered, but it’s right in line with tradition and kicks ass like any Manassas fan would expect.

Pieces collects some leftovers from the Miami sessions that led to the first album (“Witching Hour” “Like A Fox”), warmups and ideas intended for the 2nd Manassas album, Down The Road (“Lies” “Love and Satisfy”), as well as what Stills refers to as “Chris Hillman and Byron Berline teaching me bluegrass” (“Panhandle Rag” “Uncle Pen”). Other tracks are electrified covers from Stephen Stills 1 & 2, the hugely successful solo albums that gave Stephen the freedom to form a band with Doug Sahm level schizophrenia.

There are a number of gems here; “Witching Hour” and “Sugar Babe” are easy classics. Stills throws together the chorus of “Like a Fox” last minute and presages  Manfred Mann’s “Fox On The Run” (which the Country Gentlemen would turn into a bluegrass standard) word for word. Only problem, even with Bonnie Raitt lending her voice, I can’t hear past the Manfred version to this one. On Side B, the bluegrass numbers have no knockout picking, but it’s a treat to hear Stills and Hillman harmonize on “Uncle Pen.” “Do You Remember The Americans,” however, is cooler grass than I’ve ever heard. I wish Stills had recorded an entire album in this vein. ”I Am My Brother” is a sick solo blues to prove Stills’ immense talent and soul.
by Brendan McGrath
1. Witching Hour - 5:12
2. Sugar Babe - 4:19
3. Lies (Chris Hillman) - 3:07
4. My Love Is A Gentle Thing - 1:23
5. Like A Fox - 2:58
6. Word Game - 1:35
7. Tan Sola Y Triste (Stills, Nelson Escoto) - 1:23
8. Fit To Be Tied - 3:49
9. Love And Satisfy (Hillman) - 1:57
10.High And Dry - 5:52
11.Panhandle Rag (Leon McAuliffe) - 1:58
12.Uncle Pen (Bill Monroe) - 1:53
13.Do You Remember The Americans - 1:49
14.Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music) (Joe Maphis, Max Fidler, Rose Lee Maphis) - 2:16
15.I Am My Brother - 3:24
All songs by Stephen Stills except where indicated

*Stephen Stills - Vocals, Guitar
*Al Perkins - Pedal Steel Guitar
*Joe Lala - Congas
*Dallas Taylor - Drums
*Calvin Samuels - Bass
*Paul Harris - Piano
*Byrone Berline- Fiddle
*Roger Bush - Bass
*Ricky Roberts - Guitar, Vocals
*Bobby Whitlock - Keyboards
*Bonnie Raitt - Vocals
*Joe Walsh - Guitar
*Chris Hillman - Mandolin

1970  Stephen Stills - Stephen Stills (debut album, 2008 japan SHM remaster)
1972  Stephen Stills - Manassas (2006 HDCD)

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Stephen Stills - Manassas (1972 us, amazing classic rock melted with country folk and blues tunes, 2006 HDCD)

A sprawling masterpiece, 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. 
by Rob Caldwell
1. Song Of Love - 3:28
2. Medley - 3:34
..I.Rock And Roll Crazies (Stephen Stills, Dallas Taylor)
.II.Cuban Bluegrass (Stephen Stills, Joe Lala)
3. Jet Set (Sigh) - 4:25
4. Anyway - 3:21
5. Both Of Us (Bound To Lose) (Stephen Stills, Chris Hillman) - 3:00
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
12.It Doesn't Matter (Chris Hillman, Rick Roberts, Stephen Stills) - 2:30
13.Johnny's Garden - 2:45
14.Bound To Fall (Mike Brewer, Tom Mastin) - 1:53
15.How Far - 2:49
16.Move Around - 4:15
17.The Love Gangster (Stephen Stills, Bill Wyman) - 2:51
18.What To Do - 4:44
19.Right Now - 2:58
20.The Treasure (Take One) - 8:03
21.Blues Man - 4:04
All compositions by Stephen Stills except where noted

*Stephen Stills - Vocals, Guitar, Bottleneck Guitar, Piano, Organ, Electric Piano, Clavinette
*Chris Hillman - Vocals, Guitar, Mandolin
*Al Perkins - Pedal Steel Guitar, Guitar, Vocals
*Calvin "Fuzzy" Samuel - Bass
*Paul Harris - Organ, Tack Piano, Piano, Electric Piano, Clavinette
*Dallas Taylor - Drums
*Joe Lala - Percussion, Vocals
Additional personnel
*Sydney George - Harmonica
*Jerry Aiello - Piano, Organ, Electric Piano, Clavinette
*Bill Wyman - Bass
*Roger Bush - Acoustic Bass
*Byron Berline - Fiddle
*Jerry Garcia - Pedal Steel Guitar

1970  Stephen Stills - Stephen Stills (debut album, 2008 japan SHM remaster)

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