Stephen Stills has been a member of The Buffalo Springfield and Crosby Stills, Nash and Young and has 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. He was a wise choice and proved a perfect counterpoint to Stills. He kept 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. They were a tight knit outfit who were powerful in concert.
Their first self titled double album was released in April of 1972 and contains some of the finest rock music produced during the early seventies. It was a huge commercial hit reaching number four on The American album charts. Their 1973 release, 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 it could have been finished. Still there are a number of very good songs that rank among Stills finest work.
Chris Hillman’s influence is felt throughout the album. “Lies” is a rare straight rock song from Hillman. A different version would appear on Down The Road but here guest guitarist Joe Walsh provides some ringing guitar work. His “Love and Satisfy” would reappear on his album Souther-Hillman-Furay Band and returns him to his country/rock roots. Two acoustic bluegrass pieces also feel his influence. The classic “Panhandle Red” shows what a great mandolin player he could be in the right setting while “Uncle Pen” unites Stills pickin’ style with Hillman’s mandolin.
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 his vocal. “Word Game” is a harder version than appears on his second solo album. “My Love Is A Gentle Thing” features some C,S,N,&Y harmonies. “Fit To Be Tied” is Stills at his best as he breaks out the wah-wah sound and goes 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 catalog seemed to indicate that Stills would have thrived in this group but such is life. Pieces is a wonderful artifact from a by-gone era and is a good listen in its own right.