Stephen Stills – Manassas – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame. 

Our first Hot Stamper shootout for Manassas produced a number of good sounding sides on the original pressings, but we held back our highest sonic grade because even the best of the best still had problems. Most copies we played were a disaster: grungy, veiled, no real top end, grainy, stuck in the speakers, tubby bass — these and other problems were all too common. When a double album sounds like this it makes for a very long day.

After playing four or five bad sounding copies we almost threw in the towel. Everyone kept asking me: Does this record ever sound good?

I said I thought it did, I thought I heard a good copy or two when we listened to them in our preliminary rounds, but hey, maybe I was wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.

But then a copy like this one came along, and we got down to the serious business of going through them all, trying to find the few that had the qualities this one did.

What were we listening for exactly? An absence of all the bad qualities mentioned above would be the easiest answer. Once you find a copy without the nasty grit and the grain so many of them have you quickly start to key into the lovely ambience that the best copies have, you start to notice the tubey magic, the richness and sweetness, the extension up top, the kind of transparency that lets you hear into the soundfield and pick out all the players — pretty much the same kinds of things you’re always looking for in a Hot Stamper pressing, except in this case you just had to be willing to look a whole lot harder.

Sides One and Two Are Killer

Our highest grade was earned by this side one and two, A++ to A+++.

Side one had the least amount of grit and grain, a very strong bottom end, and plenty of presence and energy in the vocals. It put to shame most copies of this album.

Side two had wonderful extension up top and some of the most tubey magical sound we heard during the entire shootout. If more sides had sounded like this one we would have had a much better time! The bass was tight and rich too on this side. The master tape is not the problem: bad mastering, bad vinyl, bad production quality are.

Sides Three and Four Are Decent

Sides three and four both earned an A+ grade. They did most things we mention we liked for sides one and two, just not as well. Not as present, not as much energy, not as free from grain and grunge, not as note-like bass — far better than average but a real step down from the sound you will hear on the first two sides.

The Awful Classic

The Classic pressing was a disaster. Can you imagine ADDING the kind of grungy gritty sound that Bernie is famous for to a recording with those problems already? It was a match made in hell. Back in the day when I was selling lots of Classic Heavy Vinyl, that was one of the titles I refused to have anything to do with. That and Stephen Stills’ first album — both were awful.

Lots of rave reviews for them in the audiophile press at the time though. I guess nothing ever really changes, does it? Played a Sundazed record lately? Well, there you go.

The Bottom Line

I mostly agree with AMG — this is 4 and 1/2 Star classic. I quite like the album and if you grew up on this kind of rock you will too. And you will finally be able to hear it right if you end up with this copy, another big plus. You will need a very high resolution top quality system to play an album like this, but if you have one of those, you might actually be pretty darn impressed with the sound of the first two sides.

Our Old Commentary, Word for Word

I think this is about as good a copy as can be found. I wouldn’t rate the sound any better than a ‘B’ though. The bass is phenomenal but the sound is not particularly smooth nor sweet. The recording has its limitations, based on having played at least a dozen copies over the last 25 years. It’s punchy when you get a good copy like this one. But you can only play it so loud.

This copy is guaranteed to MURDER the Classic Records 200 gram version, or your money back! We don’t even sell the heavy vinyl version it’s so bad.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Song of Love
Rock & Roll Crazies/Cuban Bluegrass
Jet Set (Sigh)
Anyway
Both of Us (Bound to Lose)

Side Two

Fallen Eagle
Jesus Gave Love Away for Free
Colorado
So Begins the Task
Hide It So Deep
Don’t Look at My Shadow

Side Three

It Doesn’t Matter
Johnny’s Garden
Bound to Fall
How Far
Move Around
The Love Gangster

Side Four

What to Do
Right Now
Treasure [Take One]
Blues Man

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

A sprawling masterpiece, akin to the Beatles’ White Album, the Stones’ Exile on Main St., or Wilco’s Being There in its makeup, if not its sound. Rock, folk, blues, country, Latin, and bluegrass have all been styles touched on in Stephen Stills’ career, and the skilled, energetic musicians he had gathered in Manassas played them all on this album. What could have been a disorganized mess in other hands, though, here all gelled together and formed a cohesive musical statement.