1975 and 1976 were two very prolific years for Stephen Stills. Two studio, one live, one greatest hits, and a duet album with Neil Young kept him busy and in the public eye. Illegal Stills was released in March of 1976 and was the fourth of these five albums.
This album marked the beginning of a down turn in the quality of his albums and commercially would be his last release to reach The American top thirty. While he would continue to produce good and sometimes brilliant tracks here and there, his solo work would not have the consistent excellence of the past.
Donnie Dacus is back on board for a third album and is over-involved, which means Stephen Stills is not involved enough. In some ways this album can be considered a Stills-Dacus project rather than a solo release. He co-wrote five of the tracks, which are both good and bad, plus plays a lot of guitar.
The best of The Dacus tunes is “Midnight In Paris,” written with Veronique Sanson. Sanson was a French singer of note and was married to Stephen Stills for six years. “Soldier,” written with Stephen Stills, is a better than average post Vietnam protest song. However, “Closer To You,” “Different Tongues,” and “Ring Of Love,” range from average to just filler.
The albums best track is a Stills creation which demonstrates just how good he can be at times. “Buyin’ Time” was an acoustic part of his live act, but here is re-invented as a rocker and it works. It features excellent guitar playing, a solid song structure, and is just Stephen Stills doing what he does best.
“Stateline Blues” is almost good but is under developed at less than two minutes. His cover of Neil Young’s “The Loner” is competent but I prefer the original. “Circlin’” and “No Me Niegas” fall into the average category.
Illegal Stills is an album that had not been off the shelf for years, and probably decades, until I gave it a couple of spins for this review. When reaching for some Stephen Stills music there is any number of superior releases. It does have a great cover which needs to be seen on the original vinyl release to be truly appreciated.