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Take with a liberal pinch of salt
on 18 November 2009
I enjoy this kind of release. It's a bit like going to a car boot sale: it's going to be a mixed bag, but you may just unearth a gem. However, I do find the hyperbole which so often accompanies such offerings hard to understand. To suggest, for example, that 'Manassas Pieces' might have served as a worthy follow up to the debut double album is stretching credibility somewhat. Mind you, it was 'Hyperbolium' who wrote that, so I like the sense of humour. Similar lavish praise has been heaped on the (to my ears) horrendous 'CSN Demos' and Stills' 'Man Alive'. Are you sure?
The accompanying notes inform us that: "... Stills often summoned the players on a whim, regardless of time. All he had to do was walk down the hallway and open their bedroom doors." Just imagine being woken at 3am and being asked to play a song like 'Do You Remember the Americans'.
If there is a hidden gem here, it is 'Witching Hour', the opening song. Like 'Down the Road', which opened with the excellent 'Isn't It About Time', the early promise is not sustained. Inferior versions of songs which appear elsewhere are of interest, but never really fully engage ('Sugar Babe', 'Lies', 'Fit To Be Tied' - an early version of 'Shuffle Just As Bad' - 'Word Game', 'Do You Remember The Americans') and unfamiliar recordings tend to indicate that the Manassas quality control department was fully operational. Stills is no fool. About 'Like A Fox' he says: "One of those things that was half done, and then a bunch of people showed up, and so I had to write a chorus, like, now." You can really hear this. 'My Love Is A Gentle Thing' is a great Stills song, but it is not a Manassas recording at all. It is included 'for creative reasons'. Yes, I think I understand.
I can't summon up any enthusiasm for 'Panhandle Rag', 'Uncle Pen' or 'Dim lights, Thick Smoke' and it all ends with a fairly anonymous solo blues 'I Am My Brother'.
So yes, it's good to hear some of this stuff long after the fact, and maybe it's worth taking some of the accompanying fanfare with a liberal pinch of salt.