Thursday, August 30, 2012

Manassas- Pieces-2nd Review


Stills should have been the American Clapton. He certainly had no fewer vices and yet his muse was a fragile thing that would come and go as he engaged in different projects or dissolute directions. His records, then, can be very hit or miss, and by the 90's were largely less than impressive. And that's the tragedy. He had talent to spare and Manassas at its peak was a force to be reckoned with. After a very strong debut, he followed with an overproduced second album, a protean live document and then the brilliant Manassas double CD. Unfortunately, that was followed by Down The Road, as low a point in Stills' canon as there is. PIECES represents sessions engaged between the first record and DTR, and it's a genuine pity that this was not the second album. All of Stills' strengths are on display and none of his weakenesses. DTR followed these sessions and somewhere along the way the songs fell flat and the musicianship got unfocused and Stills' voice sounded like he had spent the weekend yelling at people. It was a mess. This, while not quite Stills 1 or the first Manassas, is a joy start to finish. There are songs you have not heard before, songs that would find life with the Flying Burritos, songs that recapitulated earlier statements from Just Roll Tape and Stills 2, and what results is a well-disciplined band hitting on all its cylinders. This band must have been a powerhouse live, and God willing, Stills has some tape worth releasing that documents just how good both the front line and the rhythm section were in concert.

Obviously, in the overly competitive framework of CSNY, this band was a gauntlet thrown at Crazy Horse and the CN back up bands of the time. Crazy Horse was a barely competent gaggle of misfits who could somehow rise above their abilities under the direction of Young and Briggs. CN's group of crack session players had to deal with Crosby's relentless indulgences of a different crack, and over a very short time could no longer rescue him from free fall. Manassas in some ways would not be able to save Stills from himself either, but while they were on, they were mighty. And how can you lose with Chris Hillman, Al Perkins, Joe Lala, Calvin Samuels, et al?

As I mentioned, Stills' career would have erratic highs (STILLS, Illegal Stills, Stills Alone, CSN 2) and lows (everything else), but just when you'd be ready to write him off, along comes MAN ALIVE, his very best CD. He readily admits that he isn't sure if he still has it, but perhaps by reviewing his CV he'll find he can rejuvenate his strengths. As a cancer survivor and dedicated Democratic campaigner, Stills has something to say that we all could learn from. While the next CSN CD is purported to be a Richard Rubin covers set, I'd rather have Stills head to the woodshed.

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