Tuesday, 7 June 2016

"Manassas" by STEPHEN STILLS (2013 JAPAN Mini LP Reissue vs. 1993 US/UK/EURO Atlantic HDCD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Gonna Try Anyway..."

For all Stephen Stills fans there are touchstones in his amazing career – Buffalo Springfield at the beginning - followed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and his first two solo albums on Atlantic in 1970 and 1971. But almost all will feel a rush of excitement just clapping their weary eyes on the 1972 double-album sprawl of "Manassas" – for me easily as cool as 1972's "Exile On Main St." or "Quadrophenia" from the following year.

Stunning songs, top players and different musical styles across the four sides – it's a bit of a wow frankly - and Stills himself feels it’s amongst his best work. Not surprising then that eight songs from it turned up on the 2013 Stephen Stills "Carry On" 4CD retrospective (see separate review). Time to get familiar with this wickedly good double-album and its two versions on HDCD. Here are the keys to Johnny's Garden...

The UK/EUROPE/USA issue of "Manassas" by STEPHEN STILLS on Atlantic 7567-82808-2 (Barcode 075678280825) was released February 1993 (reissued October 1995) and is a HDCD reissue (High Definition Compatible Digital) with the full double-album transferred onto 1CD and plays out as follows (71:58 minutes):

Side 1 (called "The Raven"):
1. Song Of Love
2. Rock & Roll Crazies - Cuban Bluegrass (2 songs as 1)
3. Jet Set (Sigh)
4. Anyway
5. Both Of Us (Bound To Lose)
Side 2 (called "The Wilderness"):
6. Fallen Eagle
7. Jesus Gave Love Away For Free
8. Colorado
9. So Begins The Task
10. Hide It So Deep
11. Don't Look At My Shadow
Side 3 (called "Consider"):
12. It Doesn't Matter
13. Johnny's Garden
14. Bound To Fall
15. How Far
16. Move Around
17. The Love Gangster
Side 4 (called "Rock & Roll Is Here To Stay"):
18. What To Do
19. Right Now
20. The Treasure (Take One)
21. Blues Man [Dedicated To Jimi Hendrix, Al Wilson and Duane Allman]
Tracks 1 to 21 are the double-album "Manassas" – released April 1972 in the USA on Atlantic SD2-903 and May 1972 in the UK on Atlantic K 60021. The original vinyl LPs ran the Sides differently - Record 1 had Side 1 and 4 – while Record 2 had Sides 2 and 3. Howard and Ronnie Albert Engineered - Stephen Stills, Chris Hillman and Dallas Taylor Produced. "Manassas" peaked at No. 4 in the USA in late April 1972 and No. 30 in the UK in late May 1972.

The MANASSAS Band was:
STEPHEN STILLS – Guitars, Keyboards and Lead Vocals
CHRIS HILLMAN – Guitars and Backing Vocals
AL PERKINS – Guitars and Backing Vocals (including Steel Guitar)
PAUL HARRIS – Organ, Tack Piano, Piano, Clavinette and Keyboards
JOE LALA – Congas, Timbales and Percussion

JERRY AIELLO – Keyboards
BILL WYMAN – Bass on "The Raven" and "The Wilderness" Sides
ROGER BUSH – Acoustic Bass on "The Raven" and "The Wilderness" Sides

The 8-page booklet is very basic – tracks lists, musician and reissue credits with the inner gatefold of the double-album reproduced on the two centre pages. But fans will know that there was paper inners on American copies for both LPs (same picture on all four sides mind you) and a giant foldout poster with fantastic colour photos of the seven boys on one side and hand-written lyrics to every song on the other –and that's AWOL I'm afraid.

The other variant of "Manassas" by STEPHEN STILLS I have is the 23 September 2013 Japanese MINI LP ARTWORK Reissue on Warner Brothers/Atlantic WPCR-15257 (Barcode 4943674153107) that uses the old JOE GASTWIRT Remaster (there is a reference to the 1995 version on the OBI strip at the rear). At 71:58 minutes the playing time is exactly the same as the widely available HDCD variants and the Orange/Green label also carries the HDCD code. The repro'd artwork is gorgeous – using the American textured hard card gatefold cover. Typical of their attention to detail they've also repro’d the Inner Sleeve with the side profile shot of Stephen Stills (one for one disc - see photos provided) and the fold-out lyric poster that came with both US and UK original vinyl copies. On top of all that is the usual white-pages Japanese language booklet with lyrics (24-pages).

Try as I might – I can't hear any real Audio difference between the Japanese issue and the common Euro/US pressing – except to say that the Japanese issue (which is made and mastered in Japan) has a more pronounced and warmer Bass on some songs  – bottom end. Other than that you're paying a lot of money for what is admittedly gorgeous packaging. So the thing to remember about the Japanese repress is that it's not a SHM-CD and not a new Remaster - so any claims of Audio improvement is very debatable. There is also a 2013 Japanese issue of the follow-up LP "Down The Road" in the same Mini LP packaging.

I mention the Audio a lot because if you play any of the eight tracks from Manassas featured on the 2013 Stephen Stills "Carry On" Box Set – you 'can' hear the improvement big time – beautiful clarity on softer songs like "Colorado" and “It Doesn’t Matter” (which was always a tad muddy on every issue) and more muscle on rockers like "Song Of Love" and "Jet Set (Sigh)". That box set also carries a Previously Unreleased shorter take of "The Treasure" running to 4:20 minutes instead of the released Take 1 version here at over 8-minutes (could have been added on a bonus).

The music is a mishmash of Rock on Side 1 with the fantastic riffage of "Song Of Love" and "Anyway" nestling alongside Acoustic ballads like "Johnny's Garden" and "Bound To Lose". These jostle alongside out-and-out Banjo-picking Country Rockabilly in the shape of "Fallen Angel" and "Don't Look At My Shadow". CSNY's harmony-influence surfaces on shuffling California songs like "So Begins The Task" and the beautiful "Colorado". Hidden nuggets include the wickedly musical Synth and Acoustic soundscape of "Move Around" and the stunning Wah-Wah Guitar Funk of "The Love Gangster" (surely would have made a great 45). "Right Now" is a kind of "Deja Vu" fast-paced boogie - but it's outclassed big time by the album finisher "Blues Man" - easily the coolest tune he's ever penned for a Guitar - a song that tears them up even now 44-years after the event.

The truth is that if I feel there's even a millisecond of improvement on "Manassas" - then I had to own the beautiful Japanese repro. I suspect others will feel exactly the same. 

GENIUS and then some...

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