THE BEAU BRUMMELS: INTRODUCING THE BEAU BRUMMELS (1965)
1) Laugh Laugh; 2) Still In Love With You Baby; 3) Just A Little; 4) Just Wait And See; 5) Oh! Lonesome Me; 6) Ain't That Loving You Baby; 7) Stick Like Glue; 8) They'll Make You Cry; 9) That's If You Want Me To; 10) I Want More Loving; 11) I Would Be Happy; 12) Not Too Long Ago; 13*) Good Time Music; 14*) Gentle Wanderin' Ways; 15*) Fine With Me.
It has been said that the Beau Brummels chose their name deliberately — so that their records could be placed right next to the Beatles in record stores. The band members themselves denied it quite vehemently, of course, but then again, who on earth would publicly admit to such trickery? The situation is even less in the band's favor when you realize that nobody in 1965 sounded as close to classic British Merseybeat on the other side of the Atlantic than those five guys from San Francisco. They had their own peculiarities, for sure, but where the Byrds only borrowed superficial traits of British Invasion bands, these guys went much further in idolizing their heroes from the overseas. Only The Sir Douglas Quintet could probably compare, and they have always seemed more of a novelty act to me.
The Beau Brummels made their first — and, as it turned out, biggest — mark on musical history with ʽLaugh, Laughʼ, a song that was actually one of their less obvious Beatles rip-offs, because none of the Fab Four ever played harmonica in such a mournful way, or sang in such a melancholic, plaintive, trembling manner, which would soon become one of the trademarks of the folksy San Franciscan sound. It wasn't aggressive garage rock, and it wasn't mainstream pop, it was a special kind of folk-pop sound where the «folk» and the «pop» elements were mixed in equal proportions. The gentleness and vulnerability of the tune, in fact, suggests that The Searchers were a much bigger influence here than the Beatles.
Like most of the other songs on this record, ʽLaugh, Laughʼ was penned by the band's lead guitarist Ron Elliott, and that was yet another defining trait in the Brummels' portrait: they had their own resident songwriter, who could hammer out well-crafted hooks all by himself, and their very first long-playing album only had two covers — an incredible feat for an American band circa early 1965. If there is a problem here, it is rooted in the band's wimpiness: Introducing The Beau Brummels does not feature any good old rock'n'roll, which is a bit regrettable for a band wih two electric guitars and a swinging rhythm section.
However, that isn't really the way one should be trying to get into this album. This one is for the sensitive, delicate souls — or at least for the sensitive, delicate corner of one's soul, provided there is one that can be found — souls that do not want to be delved way too deep, but wouldn't mind a bit of emotional complexity dressed up in formal simplicity. Basically, if you really like songs like ʽAsk Me Whyʼ or ʽP.S. I Love Youʼ, but are ashamed to admit it because everything about them is exceedingly childish, from the chord sequences to the arrangements to the lyrics — The Beau Brummels are here to offer you a slightly more advanced version of the sentimental ballad, just as frail and genteel, but with a bigger emphasis on craft and, well, «intelligence».
By «craft» I do not mean technicality, since the band's hold on their instruments was rather limited; but they had a really good knack for getting the most out of these limits — listen to ʽJust A Littleʼ, for instance, and see how well the mix of rhythm guitar, minimalistic acoustic lead fills, and vocal harmonies, create a believable atmosphere of «noble melancholia» with only a few chords and «trivial» overdubs. (The song became their biggest commercial hit, by the way, yet it did not acquire such a monumental status as ʽLaugh, Laughʼ — perhaps because of the lack of harmonica, or because, in retrospect, it looks like a very conscious attempt to capitalize on the success of its predecessor).
Other mini-delicacies in the melancholic vein include ʽThey'll Make You Cryʼ, where the harmonica does make a triumphant return, and participates in a pretty-sad duet with a three-note acoustic guitar solo (to great effect!); the more traditionally arranged ʽI Would Be Happyʼ, sounding like a subconscious tribute to Roy Orbison; and ʽNot Too Long Agoʼ, sounding like a conscious tribute to the Searchers and ʽNeedles And Pinsʼ in particular.
The rest of the album is more upbeat, but, like I said, the upbeat side of the Brummels is less convincing than their cry-in-my-pillow side. They do show their country heart fine enough on a respectable cover of Don Gibson's ʽOh Lonesome Meʼ which they somehow manage to play even faster than the original, but the other cover (ʽAin't That Loving You Babyʼ) is totally forgettable, and fast-paced originals like ʽJust Wait And Seeʼ, fun as it always is to listen to a fast-paced pop rock song from 1964-65, sort of make them sacrifice their identity — not sure why exactly one should be enjoying this if the Hollies have better vocals, the Animals kick more ass, the Yardbirds have a far more gifted guitar player, and anyway, Carl Perkins did all that earlier. Still, most of this is at least semi-original material, so at least they tried.
Overall, there are occasional signs of a «rush job» on Introducing, as you'd expect from any pop LP (particularly American) of the era, but considering that the Beau Brummels never really vied for a VIP lounge among the rock crowds of the day, in a relative way, this is a tremendously successful debut. Do not miss the current CD edition, which throws on some nice demos and B-sides, among them a cover of John Sebastian's ʽGood Time Musicʼ (generic R'n'B melody + one of John's patented «love music!» set of lyrics = forgettable, but hilarious) and ʽGentle Wanderin' Waysʼ, which simply happens to be one of the best Beau Brummels songs ever: apparently, the addition of a little menace-laden fuzz guitar can work wonders on an inspired day. Thumbs up for one of the most underrated US records from 1965.
Check "Introducing The Beau Brummels" (MP3) on Amazon