Wednesday, July 27, 2011
FORGOTTEN MUSIC THURSDAY-MANASSAS
Manassas ranks as one of the nicest bonuses that came out of the CSNY implosion in the early seventies. Stephen Stills assembled a first-rate cast of musicians for this project and they gelled extremely well. No less a light than Chris Hillman was up front with Stills, providing stellar harmonies, second guitar and he was indispensible when it came to lending his blazing mandolin chops to the bluegrass tracks.
Clocking in at 70 minutes and change, your attention is required. If you are not an ADD riddled sort, then your patience will be rewarded. Stills succeeds in presenting an eclectic mix of genres under the banner of cleverly produced ‘roots rock’. His strength as an arranger is frequently highlighted and the material is decent. Stylistically, Manassas doesn’t fly off in as many directions as The White Album, though there’s enough diversity to keep things interesting.
Why then does this disc find itself in the realm of forgotten music?
For starters, there was no huge hit single to be found here ("It Doesn't Matter" should have been). The songs did not possess the big hooks that reel in casual music fans, either. This is not to say that they don't captivate the ear, it's just that the melodies are crafted to sneak up on you. Smart music often needs time to grow and take root in your brain through careful listening sessions. Another strike against this release was the record company's indifference. Atlantic had a vested interest in Crosby, Stills and Nash as they raked in staggering amounts of cash for the company. Manassas was relegated to side project status, which lowered their profile, slackening any effort put into the promotion machine.
Embarking on an extensive tour that took them around the world, the group name (and album cover) was settled while on an early stop in Virginia. Rock, bluegrass, folk, country, blues and Latin jams sound effortless in the hands of this extremely versatile crew. Highlights? "It Doesn't Matter", "The Treasure", "Johnny's Garden", "Cuban Bluegrass" and "Fallen Eagle".
They sounded great live, too, often playing three hour sets. Here's a clip from 1972 (German TV)
Bill Wyman co-wrote "The Love Gangster" and played bass on the track. Manassas is the band he reportedly said that he would have quit the Stones to join. High praise indeed.
Generally available on CD as an import, though the record can be found fairly easily, "Manassas" is the summit of Mount Everest in the Stills catalog and may be the most fully realized example of this gifted man's talents.