The Story of Stephen Stills’ ‘Manassas’
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This wide-ranging double-album set, split into four individually titled and thematically distinct sides, found the former Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash star Stills at the height of his powers.
He also assembled quite a team for the project, including Chris Hillman of the Byrds, steel guitarist Al Perkins, keyboardist Paul Harris, percussionist Joe Lala and two members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young‘s backing band — drummer Dallas Taylor and bassist Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels.
The album’s 21 tracks found this expansive group, many of whom had performed on Stills’ 1971 solo album, exploring rock, blues, folk and country along with a generous undercurrent of Latin rhythms.
Even with all the talent involved, Manassas remains primarily a showcase for Stills’ impressive songwriting, guitar playing and singing talents. Highlights include, well, pretty much everything, including the album’s opening side suite of largely interconnected songs (“The Raven”), the absolutely gorgeous folk-rock of “Johnny’s Garden” and “How Far,” the epic “The Treasure” and the floating, dreamy “Both of Us (Bound to Lose).”
Stills’ previous solo records had been met with mixed reaction, but Rolling Stone seemed to speak for many critics and fans of the era when they called this album a triumphant comeback: “Most of it has a substantial, honest sound found on too few records these days. All the sounds you hear come from the seven group members.”
The review also singled out Hillman for praise: “[His] importance in the success of Manassas and in the comeback of Stills can’t be over-stressed […] He’s a masterful musician whether he’s playing bass, guitar, or mandolin, and his boyishly pure, uncolored voice can carry a lot of emotional weight.”
Manassas returned with a second album, Down the Road, in 1973. But it lacked the magic of its predecessor and the group soon split up, with Stills rejoining CSNY for a massive, but ill-fated 1974 tour. In 2009, a collection of unreleased demos and songs from the group, Pieces was released and is well worth checking out.
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