Stephen Stills took the opportunities presented by rock stardom seriously. He was just bursting with musical ideas for "Manassas" in 1972, and he transformed them into reality very well, aided by some top musicians like Chris Hillman and Dallas Taylor. The result was a...
Stephen Stills took the opportunities presented by rock stardom seriously. He was just bursting with musical ideas for "Manassas" in 1972, and he transformed them into reality very well, aided by some top musicians like Chris Hillman and Dallas Taylor. The result was a 21-track double LP. Even though now it all fits on one CD, originally there were 4 vinyl sides which corresponded loosely to 4 general categories of music: blues, country, folk (or folk-ish) and country-rock. I stress "loosely", because with musicians as skilled and dedicated as these, those genres criss-cross and blend frequently, and hints of other styles can be heard too. "Move Forward" is an unusual track which barely fits into the folk category, subtly enhanced by light instrumental effects. It has lyrics that are unusual too - introspective, abstract, intellectual and philosophical. As a whole, the album amounts to 72 minutes of delight, with only 2 tracks that are too "country" for my taste, "Fallen Eagle" and "Don''t Look At My Shadow", although in the latter, Stills does relate some fond and amusing memories of our home state: "Purple Peacock Honky-Tonk/Eunice, Louisiana/Bourbon whiskey free, son/Just tune up the piano/Workin'' clubs in New Orleans/Bringin'' down a dollar/College boys drink beer/And throw the bottles." Another very important factor is that for the most part, the tracks are not cluttered by over-production or smothered by choirs or dense harmonies. Most are loaded with guitars and little else. Although some tracks do feature harmonies like those CSN and CSN&Y were known for, on many tracks Stills is free to use his versatile voice on solos. I like the sound of his voice, so this is important to me. Layered harmonies are beautiful, but not every song needs them. Solo vocals offer a more intimate experience.
To enjoy some lazy blues with slippin'' & slidin'' guitar licks, sit back and listen to "Jet Set", in which we are warned, "Tryin'' to be cool/You just be the fool" . On the other hand, "It Doesn''t Matter", a song about resignation to lost love, shows folk influence rather than blues. The best of the country ballads is "Colorado", in which a man living alone is waiting for "...a woman who wants to be near/Me and my mountains, we''ll be right here." Stills and Rolling Stone Bill Wyman infuse the bluesy rocker "The Love Gangster" with a little psychedelicized funk. "The Treasure" is an 8-minute fugue which takes you on a musical journey that begins with a mid-tempo country-rock song in which Stills'' solo vocal lines and some layered harmonies alternate with more of that psychedelicized funk guitar. Midway through the track, the tempo gets faster, and overlapping classic rock guitar solos take over, finally coming to a full stop, no fadeout.
The album''s closer is "Blues Man", a slow, somber acoustic number which Stills wrote as a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, Al Wilson and Duane Allman. In the last two verses, we have a vivid snapshot of a blues man''s lifestyle: "Played it mad/Played it sad/Blues is pain/The way men cry/Like tired rain./Blues is mean/The real thing/Three good men/I knew well/Never see again."