PUBLICATIONS > Articles > 1970s > STEPHEN STILLS/MANASSAS – Down the Road
STEPHEN STILLS/MANASSAS – Down the Road
Atlantic K 40440
Author: David Robson
Journal: Let It Rock
In the wow-haven’t- you-heard-it-it’s-far- out stakes Manassas is a non-starter and that must be costing someone an awful lot of money. You can see that from the fact that most mentions of the band in the music press are confined to speculation about when its most illustrious members are or are not going to rejoin old confederates with a view to scoring a few gold records. Take Stephen Stills for example. Here we are just champing at the bit for him to pick up Crosby and Nash and try to make it 1969 all over again (and didn’t Ritchie Furay even mention something about the Buffalo Springfield reforming?) And what’s he doing? He’s playing solid, excellent uncharismatic music which ain’t going to fill nobody’s head with dreams. What does he think we made him a superstar for in the first place? At least Chris Hillman dipped out to make an album with the original Byrds (and what a bummer that was).
It’s a sad situation when a band like Manassas, quite possibly the most accomplished playing band there is, is neglected in favour of backward-looking pipedreams involving combinations of musicians who, for one reason or another, have already proved that they can’t really function as a unit anyway. At present it seems extremely likely that Crosby, Stills and Nash are going to get together for a time at least and I’m prepared to lay odds that from every point of view except the financial it’s going to be a waste of time. It all seems so wrong. In an interview last year Stephen Stills said that he had never enjoyed himself so much or been so happy with any bunch of people as he was with Manassas. Judging from the way he looked with them on stage and how the albums have turned out there’s every reason to believe he meant it.
This second album is markedly different from their first double for whereas that first set out as (and to a degree remained) Stills’ third solo album, this is the product of the band after it had played together on the road. As a result the balance between leader and others has changed greatly. Stills has moved back considerably from his position at the core; the rest have come forward and are playing much more. In terms of depth and thickness of music the result is remarkable; I can never remember hearing a rock band create a context in which so many musician (seven, and at times, eight or nine) can all express themselves at high energy without simply chorusing or else cutting each other up or muddying the sound.
Nor are there other bands which are genuinely so versatile, for though it has become fashionable to span the range of idioms from rock through country and blues to solid funk, generally it is just a fashion. Most bands have a natural milieu and just step out of it for the odd number of another sort. Manassas has no basic idiom. Stills’ taste has always been eclectic and these musicians allow him to indulge it to extremes. When they are playing rock they sound like a rock band, when they’re playing country they sound like a fully fledged country band and, almost above all, they play Latin music beautifully. Were it not for the distinctiveness of the Stills voice it would sometimes be difficult to know it was the same band playing throughout.
Manassas is not an easy band to identify with. It doesn’t have a persona in the way that all super-successful acts have. The only thing to get off on is the music, there’s no mystique. While it is easy to understand why there were Buffalo Springfield lovers and Flying Burritoes and Byrds fans who thought of one of those as uniquely their band, it is difficult to imagine a Manassas freak. In this sense Manassas will always be ‘cold’, evoking admiration rather than love. And as far as this is concerned the new album is more difficult than the first which was at least full of characteristically long, meandering Stills writing. On ‘Down the Road’ the songs are short and tight, so for the first time on anything he’s been involved in, it doesn’t sound like a typical Stills aIbum either.
The first Manassas album was, for me, just about the best music of the whole of last year and the band has filled out and developed a lot since then. This new album won’t break your heart or change your head. It is simply a logical progression from the first and an excellent piece of work. Probably neither Stills’ nor Hillman’s next album will be with Manassas, but if this band broke up for ever it would be a great loss – to music that is.
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