Rhino, 2009


REVIEW BY: David Bowling


Stephen Stills has been a member of The Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young); he has also issued any number of solo albums, but I have always considered his work with the group Manassas as among his best.

Stills formed Manassas in 1971 with Chris Hillman. Hillman was the perfect counterpoint to Stills, keeping him centered and in control. They were joined by guitarist Al Perkins, bassist Fuzzy Samuels, keyboardist Paul Harris, percussionist Joe Lala, and drummer Dallas Taylor. Together, they formed a tight-knit outfit that was powerful in concert.

Their first self-titled double album was released in April of 1972 and contained some of the finest rock music produced during the early ‘70s. It was a huge commercial hit, reaching number four on the American album charts. Their 1973 release, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Down The Road, was not of the same quality, and by October of that year they had disbanded.

Pieces is comprised of material that was recorded between their two album releases. It is far superior to Down The Road, and why it was not issued at the time is beyond me. There are works in progress and what appear to be unfinished songs. The fifteen tracks clock in at just under 45 minutes, which leaves the listener wishing that some could have been finished. Still, there are a number of very good cuts here that rank among Stills’ finest work.

Chris Hillman’s influence is felt throughout the album. “Lies” is a rare straight rock song from him. A different version would appear on “Down The Road,” but here guest Joe Walsh provides some ringing guitar work. His “Love and Satisfy” would reappear on his album Souther-Hillman-Furay Band and returned him to his country/rock roots. Two acoustic bluegrass pieces also show his influence. The classic “Panhandle Red” presents what a great mandolin player he could be in the right setting, while “Uncle Pen” unites Stills’ pickin’ style with more of Hillman’s classic mandolin playing.

Stephen Stills is mostly responsible for the rock part of the album. “Like A Fox” has an unfinished feel, but what is there is very good, especially Stills’ vocal. “Word Game” is a harder version than the one that appears on his second solo album. “My Love Is A Gentle Thing” features some CSN&Y harmonies. “Fit To Be Tied” is Stills at his best, breaking out the wah-wah sound and going in a blues direction.

The album production is surprisingly good for material that has been in the vault for over 35 years. It is crisp, clear, and was mixed well.

Manassas is one of those what-if groups. Much of their small catalogue seemed to indicate that Stills would have thrived in this band, but such is life. Pieces is a wonderful artifact from a bygone era and is a good listen in its own right as well.

Rating: B+

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