Release Date: September 22, 2009
Produced by: Howard Alpert, Ron Alpert, Stephen Stills
Format: CD



Mark Squirek


Goodness, what a band they were. Back in 1972 Manassas could jump between funk, bluegrass, jazz,  rock ‘n’ roll, folk, country and just about genre you could think of while still sneaking a great Latin beat by you. The original, self-titled album from 1972 is an undisputed classic. It is one of the few double albums in rock that holds up on almost every track. Pieces, the new release of gems that the band had left in the vault those thirty-odd years, adds to the luster of that first release and enhances it.

The name of Stephen Stills was on the front, and he did write the majority of the songs, but Manassas was a true band. Pieces serves as a great reminder of that band’s solidarity. Every single member brought something valuable to the table. Stills really let everyone shine. The first cut on the new CD, Witching Hour, proves that.

It opens with a slight, very low chunky guitar that quietly reminds you of the opening to Wooden Ships. However, when the song kicks in it is clear that you are listening to a true band of musicians, not just a single man over dubbing everything in the studio. There is a tightness to the sound that can only be created by a group of musicians working together in a common goal, the best sound possible for the song. This “band toughness” carries on through the first three numbers on Pieces.  

Compare the version of Sugar Babe on Pieces with the version found on Stephen Stills II. The version on found on Stills II is a touch sweeter as Stills is laying everything he can find on the song. On Pieces, Sugar Babe is stripped down and the groove is so much tighter, almost Stax-tight.  It is a just a flat out groove and the musicians ride it without killing it.

This band tightness isn’t limited to songs by Stills. Listen to the Chris Hillman number Love and Satisfy. As originally heard on the second  Souther, Hillman and Furay album, Trouble in Paradise it  moves like an Eagles song (which to be fair, is what Geffen was trying to do with the SHF Band). When Manassas plays the opening is more swamp and much closer to Creedence than the Eagles.  

This band could play anything. Pieces holds blues (High and Dry), straight bluegrass (Panhandle Rag, Uncle Pen) rock that borders on Deep Purple-heavy (Lies with Joe Walsh). The pedal steel, harmonies and organ work on Like  Fox is truly Cosmic American Music.

Stills was an effective and disciplined leader who brought out the best in those around him.  Over the years, Hillman has occasionally described his place in Manassas  “a Lieutenant to Stills’ Captain”. According to the detailed liner notes, Stills had called Hillman on a whim to invite him down to Florida to just see what would happen. It was a fortuitous call for both of them. Hillmans was frustrated by the Burritos and Stills was equally frustrated with every single aspect of CSN&Y. Working (and living) with Joe Lala, Al Perkins, Rick Roberts, Dallas Taylor, Calvin Samuels, they created some of the best music of their careers.

Still, even with Hillman deservedly front and center on the cover photo, this is Still’s band. The CD closes with one of his best acoustic country blues numbers, I Am My Brother. From his delicate picking to the force and tone of his solo runs, the song easily matches Black Queen.

At the recent rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert held in Madison Square Garden Stills reminded people that he is one of the long forgotten great guitar players. Rolling Stone described his guitar work on Woodstock as “incredible” and the Washington Post singled out  his duet with Bonnie Raitt on the Allman Brother’s song Midnite Rider as  a highlight.  Other reviews have been favorable as well. It is good to see Stills back in the spotlight and being acknowledged for how great a musician he is.

As an aside, Rhino really hit it perfect on this release. When other labels are running from what is hidden in their Vaults, Rhino (and Warner Brothers) often embraces what their legacy and takes solid steps to make sure the fan and the collector are well served. Lets hope they don’t stop at Pieces. I would be surprised if there isn’t a good Manassas sitting on a shelf somewhere. (And for that matter, don’t forget to look for live SHF Band Lets get more Hillman out!).









Copyright 2002-2009 Matthew Rowe.
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212 Frech

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