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Better was to come.
on 28 March 2007
Sandwiched between his excellent first solo album 'Stephen Stills' and the career best 'Manassas', this second solo venture falls a little short by comparison. Whereas those albums sound and feel very cohesive, with barely a single average track on them, 'Stephen Stills 2' is a little patchy and unbalanced. Perhaps this is due to his restlessness and need to stretch out musicially but the result is uneven.
Things start well with a typically bright piece of Stills folk rock in 'Change Partners', charting the complex romances and relationships within the CSNY camp. Nice acoustic guitars and harmonies throughout that anticipate his collaborations with Chris Hillman in the future Manassas. 'Nothin' To Do But Today' is a very funky guitar workout with the kind of social/political lyrics we had come to expect from him since the BS days. 'Fishes and Scorpians' is a lovely soft acoustic arrangement that builds towards a spine tingling Eric Clapton solo and remains one of my favourite Stills tracks 35 years later. So far, so very good.
Then comes 'Sugar Babe' (probably written about Rita Coolridge)featuring a big sound with the Memphis Horns. Stills is no doubt a gifted arranger, but to me this now sounds a little bombastic and overblown. He has rarely featured brass on any albums since SS2 so maybe he had to experiment and get this out of his system. Anyway, 'Open Secret', 'Relaxing Town' and 'Ecology Song' tred the same path with much the same effect, the latter being a bit like a sledgehammer to crack a nut, making up with what it lacks in subtlety with energy.
In between we have 'Know You've Got To Run', a nice banjo led slice of blues that Stills does so well and the rural 'Singing Call' which would have fit perfectly on the first solo. The last really good song on the album is 'Word Game' - another classic stripped-down Stills acoustic blues about racism and bigotry. He positively spits and rants on this one, and whilst not to everyone's taste, for me this is what socially aware music was about in the early 70's. An important part of his live set over the coming years.
The sense of anti-climax is realised on the last two tracks.'Marianne' is a catchy but forgetable slice of pop that echoes of the Hollies in places and sounds totally out-of-place on a Stills album. 'Bluebird Revisted' quite simply shouldn't have been! A slow, turgid reworking of the Springfield gem, replete with horns and proof that some things just shouldn't be messed with.
In the next year Stills would hook up with Hillman and produce one of the best albums of the 70's and one to stand toe-to-toe with anything produced by CSN, CSN & Y and any combination thereof. At the time, SS2 was regarded as an extension of his first solo, but in retrospect, it was a poor relation. Better was to come so don't expect too much here. If you are getting into Stills late in the day, don't start here as only half the album has stood the test of time and does him justice.