Thursday, January 3, 2013

Stephen Stills - "Stephen Stills 2"

For the 68th Birthday of one of my all time favorite musicians Stephen Stills, I am writing about his second solo album released in 1971, a mere seven months after his first. This also happens to be my first post of 2013. Happy New Year everyone.
[I previously posted about his debut album for his last birthday check it out.]

Stills had been making great music with a streak of excellence that goes from Buffalo Springfield, Super Session, CSN, CSNY, to his solo debut. After all that success it was no surprise that Stills stumbles a bit here. He mostly falters when he goes into Chicago (the band) territory adding a horn section (The Memphis Horns) and creating his own version of the Wall of Sound. At the time of release the album went Gold but did not produce a big hit single like "Love the One You're With" and the critics ready to bash Stills found ample opportunity here.

Looking at the album now Stills really scores on about half of the tracks. "Change Partners" feels like a ballroom country dance with a swinging tempo and great chorus that gets things off to a great start.
"Fishes and Scorpions" starts slow with acoustic guitar then turns into a rocker in the second half with some nice work by Eric Clapton. "Know you got to Run," a banjo led tune (reworking of John Hopkins song) is a brooding dark accusation (the first two lyrics were used on CSNY's "Everybody I Love You").  "Singin' Call" has a tight acoustic picking and quiet reflective vocals that show off Stills' abilities. "Sugar Babe," is a blues based mid-tempo song with a great feel and good organ work. "Marianne" is superb catchy rock featuring Stills singing in a high register.  "Word Game" is a fast acoustic number  with swirling wordy ranting lyrics about racism and prejudice.

On the rest of the tracks is where Stills stumbles. "Nothin' to do but Today" and "Open Secret" mix gospel and rock, but they are take them or leave them tracks, listenable with choruses that may stick in your head but are not so great. "Relaxing Town" and "Ecology Song" feel unfinished and rushed. The lyrics are also below par on both and the production can be overbearing.

The closer "Bluebird Revisited" is one of those 'why would you remake this?' questions. Seemingly intended as a epic finish that does not succeed. It seems like Stills had a portion of a new song and decided to mix in verses from his Buffalo Springfield classic. The music has been redone and is not bad I especially like the trumpet playing before the last verse.

Like his debut album there are some famous guest appearances by Eric Clapton, Nils Lofgren, Billy Preston and David Crosby. As well as Henry Diltz photography (the back of the cover photo shows what could be a bag of white powder on the table next to Stephen). The CD version I have sounds good, certain vocals seem really soft though. iTunes may help listeners with this album because they will pick their favorite songs and leave the rest.

All in all as many critics pointed out Stills seems to have rushed the album out before enough strong material was ready. His creative energy, however, would get a shot of adrenalin from Manassas a year later. In the end this album has some good moments that many critics chose to ignore and it is definitely worth a look.

Happy Birthday Stephen Stills, let's wish for the much anticipated and long overdue release of the Stephen Stills Box Set this year.