Manassas: Pieces

Manassas_PiecesGreat vault finds from Stephen Stills’ post-CSN/Y band

As CSN/Y’s initial rush of productivity and fame led to a split in the early ‘70s, Stephen Stills followed up his two self-titled solo albums with a pair of albums backed by Manassas. The group, formed with Chris Hillman and others in the Stills orbit, recorded a large number of tracks across a range of rock, country, blues, bluegrass, folk and salsa styles. Their self-titled 1972 debut was a 21-track double-LP nominally divided into four sections, but cross-pollinating the styles throughout. Their followup, 1973’s Down the Road, despite its single-LP concision, had neither the spark nor focus of the freshman effort.

Rhino’s new collection offers fifteen vault selections, drawn from the original sessions, that include alternate takes, reworked solo tunes, cover songs, and live tracks. As on the group’s debut, the styles vary from straight bluegrass to tightly harmonized country, electric folk and rock, and a taste of salsa. The soulful rock of “Like a Fox” (with backing vocal by Bonnie Raitt) is interlaced with pedal steel, Chris Hillman’s “Lies” is layered with organ and slide guitar, the electric folk of “My Love is a Gentle Thing” is filled out with CSN-styled harmonies, and Stills’ “Word Game” is sped along by fast shuffling drums.

The salsa instrumental “Tan Sola y Triste” and the blue soul original “Fit to Be Tied” close the first half of the album, and give way to earthier country sounds that open with Chris Hillman’s twangy country-rock “Love and Satisfy.” A pair of acoustic bluegrass covers includes Leon McAuliffe’s “Panhandle Rag” and Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen,” and while Stills’ “Do You Remember the Americans” is sung high and tight, Joe Maphis’ “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud Loud Music” is harmonized mournfully.

Perhaps the group recorded too much material for the pipeline, but it’s surprising that any of these tracks failed to see release at the time. Not only are the performances and recordings generally up to par with the group’s released works, Stills’ originals are as good as anything else he wrote at the time. Reworked versions of “Sugar Babe” and “Word Game,” originally waxed for Stephen Stills 2, and a smoking live version of “High and Dry,” give a further taste of what this band had to offer. This is a superb complement to the band’s debut, and perhaps a more rightful heir to their legacy than Down the Road. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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