Manassas were the first band Stephen Stills involved himself with after the breakup of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He'd recorded a pair of solo albums, but forming this group with ex- and future Byrd and former Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman, pedal steel guitarist Al Perkins, Joe Lala from Blues Image, the CSNY rhythm section of Dallas Taylor and Calvin "Fuzzy" Samuels, and session man Paul Harris turned out to be a dream band, for a time. The unit released two albums on Atlantic: its self-titled debut in 1971 ...
Manassas were the first band Stephen Stills involved himself with after the breakup of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He'd recorded a pair of solo albums, but forming this group with ex- and future Byrd and former Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman, pedal steel guitarist Al Perkins, Joe Lala from Blues Image, the CSNY rhythm section of Dallas Taylor and Calvin "Fuzzy" Samuels, and session man Paul Harris turned out to be a dream band, for a time. The unit released two albums on Atlantic: its self-titled debut in 1971 (which is widely regarded as a classic) and a less successful follow-up entitled Down the Road in 1972. Stills' and Rhino's Pieces assemblage of Manassas tracks includes outtakes and unreleased numbers from both recordings. This is the first in a series of retrospective recordings that Stills plans to issue, among them a box set, a live set, and (in association with Experience Hendrix) an album of studio session demos he recorded with Jimi Hendrix, his then guitar teacher (Hendrix appeared on Stills' debut solo effort), as well as a live compilation. This Manassas material is a delightful surprise. Since virtually all of it was recorded and originally mixed for inclusion on one of the two albums by the band, it sounds great. The mastering and remixing processes are nearly flawless. Musically, there is a slew of Stills compositions that must have been tough to leave on the cutting-room floor, including superior Manassas versions of a pair of tracks that ended up on Stephen Stills 2 -- "Word Game" and "Sugar Babe." The track "Like a Fox" includes a smoking backing vocal performance from Bonnie Raitt. There are alternate versions of two songs that ended up on Down the Road: "Lies" (with Joe Walsh on guitar) and "Do You Remember the Americans." The remaining tracks -- including stellar yet fun readings of country, Western swing, and bluegrass classics such as Leon McAuliffe's "Panhandle Rag," a moving demo reading of "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)" by Joe Maphis, and Bill Monroe's "Uncle Pen," as well as the Latin rhumba "Tan Sola y Triste" (written by Stills and Nelson Escola) -- reflect the incredible diversity and musicianship of Manassas. Other stellar numbers include the opening "Witching Hour," Chris Hillman's "Love and Satisfy," and a live version of "High and Dry" that just kills. Hindsight being 20/20, and since most of this music is unreleased, there is a real argument to be made that much of it would have served Down the Road more than what made it onto the final product, even though some was recorded for the Manassas debut. Also, it is worth pointing out that since Stills is a native Floridian and this band came together, rehearsed, and recorded in one of his homes in that state, this is one of the first portraits listeners have of the various musical cultures of Florida making it onto tape as country, blues, swamp pop, and Latin styles all mixed in a rock & roll stew while retaining their original characteristics. This is one of the few cases where a collection from the vaults was completely worthwhile. There is no filler, no half-assed fodder included here. If it is any indication at all, Pieces bodes well for the retrospective material Stills will issue in the future. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi
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