on April 21, 2003
Time gives us perspective and over 30 years after I bought it on vinyl, the album Manassas holds up well, gaining poignancy in that Stills would probably never again reach similar heights as an artist. Here he is at the pinnacle of his powers, writing a ton of quality songs and managing a large, talented, TIGHT band (probably with the considerable help of ex-Byrd Chris Hillman--one of the things that attracted me to the album in the first place).
The results are impressive. This is a solid album that spans a number of musical genres, and hearing it re-mastered on CD is a treat. There are few weak songs and as a fan of bands with three guitars, Stills, Hillman, and Perkins (often, but not always, on Steel) mesh very well. Stills is firmly in the spotlight, but seems secure enough (in contrast to his musical endeavors with Neil Young) to let the band function as an integrated whole. I remember this album getting lukewarm reviews at the time, which seems ludicrous. If only more CDs contained over 20 solid tracks.
I saw this band twice, and the first time--a three hour show at Maples Pavillion at Stanford University--they blew me away, opening with "So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star?" and following with "Rock and Roll Woman." They then went into the suite on Side One, and things got even better.
Stills appeared to be a little wobbly, a foreshadowing of the kinds of things would later work against him as an artist, but it never interfered with the quality musicianship of the evening. At one time during the night he said "This is the best band I've ever played with," and truthfully it was. CSNY may have had the star power and the hits, but could never be mistaken as a full functioning band, especially in concert. Manassas impresses today because they are a BAND that brought the best out of Stephen Stills. The best evidence of this is "The Treasure", a studio recording essentially played live in one take. It's awesome and shows the ability of the group to work with one mind toward a common goal. Wish it would have happened more often in Stills (and for that matter, Hillman's) career.
on November 9, 2003
After the Beatles' "White Album" and The Who's TOMMY, it became fashionable for artists to record a "double album". The unfortunate consequence was that, under the necessity of filling two vinyl discs, material was included that might otherwise have been left on the "cutting room floor", so to speak. Double albums were a stretch and, as a result, tended to be somewhat uneven.
MANASSAS was, at once, a band put together by Stephen Stills, the name of the album released by that band, and Stephen Stills' double album. Despite the presence of other well-known musicians, the album is very much a Steve Stills project from beginning to end. The band is very good and the musicianship is tight, but Stills is out in front throughout. He plays the leads, he's the lead singer, and he wrote almost all of the material.
MANASSAS is organized into four sections, corresponding to the four sides of the original two discs, and each has its own sub-title. The first, titled "The Raven", prominently displays latin, jazz and blues influences. It includes "Jet Set (Sigh)", a blues-based rocker that is my favorite song on the album. The second section, "The Wilderness", has a strong country-western flavor. It's a bit too twangy for my taste, and is my least favorite part of the album, but has some nice moments. Third is "Consider", a section of essentially folk-rock tunes. "How Far", another favorite of mine, is found here. The last section, "Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay", is basicaaly straight-up rock although it has a short, bluesy finale.
I've always regarded Stills as a pretty significant rock artist. His credentials are impressive, beginning with Buffalo Springfield and continuing through the various permutations of CSN and CSN&Y, Manassas and solo efforts that were, in some instances, quite good. Though he has been referred to as "not the most accomplished" member of CSN, I think that point could be argued. He's probably the most prolific, has probably penned the most hits, and is probably the most versatile. In my mind, he's the lynchpin of CSN (&Y perhaps, given Neil Young's erratic level of participation). Crosby and Nash certainly never got far commercially without him. He can be criticized for sometimes releasing music that was over-produced, perfunctory and/or self-indulgent, but he has been responsible for some inarguably great music, as well. MANASSAS is one of his better moments.
MANASSAS is not, in my opinion, an essential rock album. It isn't one of my ten all-time favorites, either. The material is stretched a little thin and is a bit uneven, overall. Those statements alone will probably make me unpopular amidst all of the five-star ratings here. The other side of the coin, however, is that this IS a very good album. There's lots of good, listenable music, and the band is excellent. Moreover, what was once a "double album" at a "double album" price is now a single CD at a single CD price. A bargain. Enough so that I bought the CD, even though I bought MANASSAS in LP format when it was originally released. It's not quite a five-star classic in my book, but definitely worth having. You'll especially want it if you like Stills' performances with either Buffalo Springfield or CSN (&Y).
on January 30, 1999
In the early 1970s as an undergraduate at UVA when I eagerly awaited the next album from my favorite rock and roll artists, I was constantly dismayed to read that what had been going on in the late 60s was still continuning. Bands that had sky rocketing success were breaking up at the height of their popularity for no apparent reason to us other than they just could not get along or wanted more freedom of expression, etc. None of this could be understood by those of us who just wanted to hear more great music. I could never understand why Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young) could not stay together for the next 40 years and satisfy my unquenchable thirst. After two solo albums by Stills, I had decided that he was my favorite of the group. When Manassas came out and I saw that Stephen Stills was one of the driving forces in the group, I bought the album. Without a doubt, that was one of the best purchases I had ever made. What a collection of the finest rock and roll music you will ever hear. It starts strong and finishes stronger. The musicianship, the vocals, the passion, it's all there. The first side of the first LP blew me away. Then came the country and western side with the wonderful "So Begins The Task". Firefall recorded the first song on the third side (first side of the second LP), "It Doens't Matter", and had a commercial hit. Anyone who ever compared the two versions would wonder why it wasn't Manassas's version that they were listening to on their car radio. It gets better and better. My personal favorite is on the last side, "The Treasure", a song that makes me want to turn it up and sing along. I was fortunate enough to see Manassas in concert at the College of William & Mary in 1972. What an experience. Unfortunately, I believe that was one of only two tours the group ever made. For those of us who can remember the LIFE cereal commercial of many years ago I can only say, "Try it, you'll like it." Thank goodness that I had the chance to replace my old vinyl LP with the crisp new CD. After all these years it hasn't lost a thing. Isn't that so, Watts?
on September 18, 1999
Steven always wanted to form a "Super Group". Buffalo Springfield was the first, CSNY was the 2nd, and Manassas was the third and last. The first side of that 2 record set treated the listener to something they never heard before or since,with it's seamless glide from one great song to the next.The influence of the kid with the big white guitar (Chris Hillman) is all over this LP. Steve's musical mix for the rest of the album is refreshing to say the least ! Johnny's Garden and Move Around always put me in a very very good state of mind. The absolute BEST concert I ever saw was Joe Walsh and Barnstorm (Joe's attempt at a Super Group) and Steven Stills and Manassas at Merriweather Post Pavillion outside of D.C. Joe and the boys were promoting "The Smoker you Drink..." and after he blew the crowd away, Manassas finished us off. After blistering us for an hour Steve gave the guys a break,then he did an acoustical set with Joe Walsh on slide guitar. I forgot I brought a date!! Fans of the Byrds,Pure Prairie League, Buffalo Springfield, Loggins & Messina,The Flying Burrito Bros., Dan Fogelburg and CSNY must have this one in their collection.Thanks Steve, Chris, Al , Dallas, George "Chocolate" Perry" and supporting cast for this classic !! Hey you guys at those "Classic Rock" radio stations, how about some Manassas?
on June 19, 1999
I bought "Manassas" when it was first released. I own at least 2,000 albums and this one ranks among my all time top ten favorites. Along with "Pet Sounds" and "Sargent Pepper", this collection clearly shows how rock music in general and Stephen Stills in particluar was influenced by many other styles and formats. Blues, country, soul, pop, acoustic, electric, short, long, happy, sad, intellectual, clueless, sparse instrumentation, lush instrumentation. You name it, Stephen Stills applied it in this showcase/masterpiece. To me it shows what a versatile musician and artist this guy really is. It has always disgusted me that this record didn't get a LOT more airplay. I was lucky enough to see Manassas at the Hollywood Bowl and I'll never forget it. Stills and company opened the show by performing the entire first side of the record - nonstop - and perfect to the last note. This was a format later successfully employed by the Eagles, among others. Stills has certainly had his ups and downs, but, believe me, no matter how old you are, you will love this recording.
on July 13, 2000
If you really enjoy listening to Stephen Stills play guitar, this is the best CD. The variety of styles is wonderful; acoustic or electric, the range is fabulous. And you get more value per song in this CD than any other I've heard. Since it's release I have purchased it four times; the vinyl, the eight-track, the cassette and the CD! The remastered CD is a joy to listen to. Stills thrives in the company of the Manassas band; Chris Hillman is his partner on this album. The CD takes me right back to the Manassas concert I attended in Chicago in the 70's. The only down side is trying to understand what he's singing (sometimes), but this is one great CD!
on September 11, 2000
Stills didn't need this wonderful record to be a major rock'n'roll figure. He'd written several great songs for Buffalo Springfield and CSN. But his solo albums were usually uneven except for this one. By concentrating on rock'n'roll and hard country he hit a songwriting streak for the Manassas record. There wasn't as much of the singer/songwriter material. The Manassas band featured superb slide and pedal steel guitar by Al Perkins and Latin percussion by Joe Lala. Ex--Byrd and Burrito Brother Chris Hillman sang backup and played rhythm guitar and mandolin instead of his usual bass. He also co-wrote the best song on the record. The only complaint is occasionally hasty recording which couldn't be fixed by remastering. But that's a quibble. This is a great record and it would surprise both Stills detractors and Stills fans.
on June 12, 2002
After releasing the average (average by his standards) Stephen Stills 2. The former member of CSN&Y hooked up with former Byrd/Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman to put together a huge band known as Manassas. Along with Stills and Hillman were Dallas Taylor, Paul Harris, Paul "Fuzzy" Samuels, Al Perkins and Joe Lala. Although Manassas was just considered a back up band for Stills it is obvious that this band was destined to record a wonderful album. And they did. On April 12th 1972 Manassas' debut record was released.
The album itself is brilliant as almost every style of music is covered here. You'll find a collection of rock, country rock, folk rock, jazz rock or blues rock tunes that only a musician with the talents of Stephen Stills would be able to dream up. The album was divided into four different sections of musical genres that define popular music at the time.
THE RAVEN is the first section it features some rock 'n roll, jazz and blues. SONG OF LOVE opens the album with a bang followed by ROCK 'N ROLL CRAZIES and the latin jazz CUBAN BLUEGRASS. JET SET (SIGH) is a great blues rock tune. ANYWAY falls into the latin jazz rock style similar to Santana. BOTH OF US (BOUND TO LOSE) is a fine jazzy love ballad.
THE WILDERNESS is obviously the country rock section of the album, opening up with the bluegrass like FALLEN EAGLE which I find a tad goofy but JESUS GAVE LOVE AWAY FOR FREE makes up for it as it is a wonderful country ballad. COLORADO is another great country love song. SO BEGINS THE TASK may be the best song on the album. HIDE IT SO DEEP has a nice easy going feel to it. DON'T LOOK AT MY SHADOW is a very fun tune to listen to which closes THE WILDERNESS section.
CONSIDER has often been consider the best part of the album. It contiains more folk and rock 'n roll music. IT DOESN'T MATTER is a wonderful rock 'n roll song with fantastic lyrics. JOHNNY'S GARDEN is a nice acoustic piece that finds Stills paying tribute to Lennon. BOUND TO FALL is a quirky folk tune. HOW FAR is anpther great rock tune that delivers a nice message. MOVE AROUND is an echoing trippy tune. LOVE GANGSTER feature some great funky guitar grooves by Stills that closes the CONSIDER section.
This opens ROCK 'N ROLL IS HERE TO STAY whcih basically wraps up all loose ends. WHAT TO DO is a laid back feeling rocker. RIGHT NOW is another great fast paced rocker. THE TREASURE (TAKE ONE) is a classic.
BLUES MAN is a nice acoustic blues that closes this musical monument.
Overall MANASSAS is an awesome album. One of the finest albums ever recorded perhaps. Thank the lord for Stephen Stills musical genius because this recording would have never existed had he not been around. This album along with his solo debut define his musical brilliance. Thank you Stephen for this wonderful music. This album is essential for all serious music fans. Highly recommended!
on August 20, 1998
Awhile back, our local paper put out a call for readers to send in their favorite album titles of all time. Based on my selection, I was one of the readers they chose to highlight in the article. I'd like to think it was because of the terrific music I listed, instead of what may be thought of as an esoteric collection of early 70s rock.
First on my list was Manassas. It was and is one of my top five favorite rock albums of all time. I listen to it to this day, and I am happy to see that it is out in CD form, remastered.
Out of the four sides (grouped in order on the CD), my favorite is side three. It is pure seamless Stills, moving and melding effortlessly into one cut after the other.
"It Doesn't Matter" written by Chris Hillman and Stills blends all the best from this album of rock impresarios, from Dallas Taylor's drums to Stills easily recognizable and distinct guitar. Harmonies are perfect - you glide along - after all, it doesn't matter it's only dreamin' anyhow....
That cut smoothly breaks into "Johnny's Garden" - Stills ode to John Lennon's English garden. "I'll do anything I can do - cut my hair, shine my shoes - if I can stay here in Johnny's garden."
I won't go on about the whole side, but it ends with "The Love Gangster" - an in-your-face testament to the prowess of one very self-assured love machine...or so the song wants us to believe.
And that's just Side Three of the vinyl - many more classics on this album/CD - for those who love timeless rock and roll arranged to perfection, then buy Manassas.
on October 11, 2003
Ever since The Beatles released their groundbreaking 'White Album', the phenomenon of the double-LP has been an intriguing one. Some of these productions are replete with long-winded instumental performances, such as The Allman Brother's 'Eat a Peach', or the best selling double-live of all time, 'Frampton Comes Alive'. Others represent a true tour de force, such as The Rolling Stones' 'Exile On Main Street', or George Harrisons' 'All Things Must Pass'. Stephen Stills 1972 double-LP, 'Manassas', joins the stellar company of the latter category.
This masterpiece of composition and performance rests on the diversity of Stills' musical influences. The album is loosely divided into 4 musical genres, yet the opening side, titled 'The Raven', ranges from hard rock to latin rock to powered blues to romantic ballad, and as such nearly defies being categorized. The songs in 'The Raven' are presented as a suite, akin to the opening sides of The Beatles 'Abbey Road', or much of The Who's 'Tommy', and the quality of the music holds its own in comparison with these other, much heralded accomplishments.
Side two is titled 'The Wilderness', and features a decided country atmosphere. Side three is titled 'Consider', offering a bounty of gentle folk sounds with introspective, intimate lyrics. Side four is titled 'Rock & Roll Is Here To Stay', and as such requires no deep description. As Harrison would say, someone has given Stephen a wah-wah, and he hands it a grueling workout.
Each side of the album contains at least one song which would have to be considered a masterwork. On side one, the plaintive ballad 'Both of Us (Bound To Lose)' does everything but cry for you. On side two, perhaps the most alluring song Stills has ever recorded, 'So Begins the Task', finds center stage. The soft melencholy strains of the acoustic and steel guitars, and the tear-laden lyrics of this song course through the air like the wings of an angel. Side three opens with another plaintive folk song, originally written by Rick Roberts and Chris Hillman, but seriously overhauled by Stills, 'It Doesn't Matter'. And side four features the epic rock song, 'The Treasure'.
Interspersed are numbers representing the best Stills has ever produced in any vernacular. His hard rock leanings are indulged in 'Song of Love', 'Rock & Roll Crazies', 'Anyway', 'What To Do', and 'Right Now'. His blues prowess is delivered in 'Jet Set' and 'Blues Man'. Stills latino influences are given their due on 'Cuban Bluegrass', and he even offers an appealing, pioneering endeavor on the moog synthesizer in 'Move Around'. His acoustic folk skills are displayed on 'Colorado', 'Fallen Eagle', 'Johnny's Garden', 'Jesus Gave Love Away For Free', and 'How Far'. There is virtually no filler on either of these albums.
Stills supporting cast deserve much acclaim for the opus that is 'Manassas'. Dallas Taylor (drums) and Calvin "Fuzzy" Samuels (bass) joined Stills in previous ventures with David Crosby and Graham Nash, and offer an able rhythm section. The real standouts backing Stills, however, are Joe Lala laying down a latin-tinged beat through a variety of percussion instruments, and Al Perkins offering scintillating steel guitar solos and background for songs such as 'Hide It So Deep' and 'The Treasure'. Chris Hillman rides along on rhythm guitar, and together with Perkins contributes haromonies that, at times, complement Stills gruff vocal delivery even better than Crosby or Nash ever did.
If there is to be a criticism of this production, it is that the performance of these songs, at times, feels a bit formulaic. Stills is known to be a perfectionist, and in the recording studio this may lead to a stunted feeling that was overcome when the band performed live. In 2000 Pioneer Artists released live studio performances by the band in their genesis. This video, titled 'Live At Musikladen', reveals how much more heartfelt and personal some of these songs can become, especially offerings such as 'It Doesn't Matter', 'Hide It So Deep', and even 'The Treasure'. Clearly, however, the complexity of mixing the stylings of a seven piece band and an occasional fiddler at times requires fiddling around a bit in the studio.
If you enjoy the more visible and commercial work Stills has offered in the past, such as 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' and 'Love the One You're With', do yourself a favor: purchase this CD and savor the true depth and breadth of a modern day troubador.