Manassas / Stephen Stills

Manassas

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A sprawling masterpiece, akin to the Beatles' White Album, the Stones' Exile on Main St., or Wilco's Being There in its makeup, if not its sound. Rock, folk, blues, country, Latin, and bluegrass have all been styles touched on in Stephen Stills' career, and the skilled, energetic musicians he had gathered in Manassas played them all on this album. What could have been a disorganized mess in other hands, though, here all gelled together and formed a cohesive musical statement. The songs are thematically grouped: part one (side one on the original vinyl release) is titled "The Raven," and is a composite of rock and Latin sounds that the group would often perform in full live. "The Wilderness" mainly centers on country and bluegrass (Chris Hillman's and Al Perkins' talents coming to the forefront), with the track "So Begins the Task" later covered by Stills' old flame Judy Collins. Part three, "Consider" is largely folk and folk-rock. "Johnny's Garden," reportedly for the caretaker at Stills' English manor house and not for John Lennon as is often thought, is a particular highlight. Two other notables from the "Consider" section are "It Doesn't Matter" (later redone with different lyrics by the song's uncredited co-writer Rick Roberts on the first Firefall album) and "Move Around," which features some of the first synthesizer used in a rock context. The closing section, titled "Rock & Roll Is Here to Stay," is a rock and blues set with one of the landmarks of Manassas' short life, the epic "The Treasure." A sort of Zen-like meditation on love and "oneness," enlivened by the band's most inspired recorded playing it evolves into a bluesy groove washed in Stills' fierce electric slide playing. The delineation lines of the four themed song groupings aren't cut in stone, though, and one of the strengths of the album is that there is a lot of overlap in styles throughout. The CD reissue's remastered sound is excellent, though missed is the foldout poster and handwritten lyrics from the original vinyl release. Unfortunately, the album has been somewhat overlooked over the years, even though Stills considers it some of the best work he has done. Bill Wyman (who guested on "The Love Gangster") has said he would have quit the Rolling Stones to join Manassas.

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