Friday, September 25, 2009

Manassas - Pieces

When I saw this was coming out I was worried that it might be just a cash-in best-of masquerading as something special. Well, it is something special. Pieces is a collection of all the little bits of Manassas that somehow never made it onto the two records they did release in their short, legendary career. Riding high on Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's incredible success and the platinum sales of his first two solo albums, Stephen Stills was looking for a less pressurized outlet for his prodigious talent. He found it in former Byrd/Burrito Brother Chris Hillman who acted as a non-threatening yang to his fiery yin. Forging a sound that would be predictor of all country-rock to follow, they beautifully melded Country, Rock, Latin and Soul into great vehicles for Stills' vocals and songwriting. There are songs that were left off their groundbreaking first album, "Witching Hour" and "Like A Fox" (with a vocal by Bonnie Raitt), a bunch of songs left off their second album (which might have changed the way it was received), some loose studio jamming (the instrumental "Tan Sola Y Triste" or Stills' fun "Sugar Babe",) a few gorgeous Stills solo rarities ("My Love Is A Gentle Thing," "Word Game" and "I Am My Brother,") and most significantly a session from the birth of Manassas, when Burrito Brothers including fiddle master Byron Berline run through a series of classic bluegrass songs that totally shows off another side of Stills. To hear them barnstorming their way through tunes like "Uncle Pen" and "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and loud loud music)" is really an eye-opening joy. This is sort of the Holy Grail of great 70’s rock. It may not be as amazing as their debut, but there is lots of very substantive stuff to dig into here.
Paul Epstein

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