Though I became kind of obsessed with Manassas’ debut album and Super Session back in the day, Stills is the last of CSNY for me, in terms of listening to proper solo albums. Some of that is accidental (or technical, depending upon how you feel about Manassas). But some of that is also because, though I admire certain things about Stills, he has long struck me as the most obnoxious member of CSNY, which is really saying something
This is a mix of typical Stills songs and jams. It succeeds more when it is actual songs, rather than jams, but I still don’t love the set of songs. That’s because, though Stills has a gift for melody, he tends to reuse certain devices more than others. Melodically, more than one of these songs resembles other Stills songs I’ve heard – and remember, I’ve never listened to one of his solo albums before! (Though I have listened to three of his bands…) And the same is true lyrically – he uses the same language in other songs I’ve heard as he does here. I sure hope he doesn’t sing about eagles on every album he makes…
Stills’ gifts as an arranger and producer are evident here, too. (As well as his ability to be a one man band, or nearly one man band…) I want to hate “Love the One You’re With” but I can’t because of the arrangement. And that’s true of other songs here too. But, the thing is, you can hear him work this magic on other albums, where it’s not just Stills doing the writing (which is preferable). Whether it’s Buffalo Springfield Again or the first two CSN/CSNY records or Manassas, Stills is at his best when he isn’t pulling all the weight on the songwriting front and where he’s helping out (to some degree…) with others’ songs. (Of course, he doesn’t always cooperate, does he?)
The other thing is: Imagine you had the greatest guitarist of all time in for a jam session. And, sure, Jimi dogs it a bit on your track, but Jimi dogging it is still better than plenty of guitarists’ best takes. And imagine you decide to include two organ solos by yours truly, at least one of which sounds like you mixed Jimi out. Sure, maybe Jimi deferred to you on those solos because he’s cool like that but you’re Stephen Stills and your reputation for modesty isn’t exactly stellar. I mean, it’s Jimi Hendrix man; I don’t care how great you think your organ solos are. This guy’s ego…Ahem.
Stills was a pretty good producer and an excellent arranger. (I say “was” because I’ve never listened to anything he’s made since the late ’70s.) And those abilities are mostly on full display here. The songs could better and the whole “This is a Stephen Stills solo album” thing is hard to get around.