THE BEAU BRUMMELS: BRADLEY'S BARN (1968)
1) Turn Around; 2) An Added Attraction (Come And See Me); 3) Deep Water; 4) Long Walking Down To Misery; 5) Little Bird; 6) Cherokee Girl; 7) I'm A Sleeper; 8) Loneliest Man In Town; 9) Love Can Fall A Long Way Down; 10) Jessica; 11) Bless You California.
Somewhere out there is a model that convincingly predicts a Beau Brummels album recorded in 1968 would be more effective and natural than a Beau Brummels album recorded in 1967. Maybe this idea has biased me from the start, but I do really feel that Bradley's Barn — titled after the Wilson County studio where the remaining Brummels, Valentino and Elliott, teamed up with some Nashville pros — seriously improves on Triangle. It may have nothing on the uniqueness of the sound of ʽMagic Hollowʼ, but it sounds like a record that these guys really had a lot of fun making, putting off most of the pressure of the preceding years.
Obviously, by 1968 the subtle «roots-rock revolution» was in an active phase, and, as The Byrds, The Band, and Bob Dylan were cleansing their organisms from psychedelic «excesses», the Brummels and their original folk-pop vibe suddenly got one more chance. The result is a record that may be even more underrated than Triangle — eleven lovely exercises in country-rock, with Elliott taking care of the music and Valentino of the words (usually): not generic country-rock, mind you (a.k.a. «Singing Cowboy rewrites with hippie lyrics»), but interesting attempts at merging the spirit of country-rock with the band's experience in baroque pop flourishes.
Unfortunately, neither the album itself nor any of the singles released on its basis charted at all. ʽLift Meʼ, an experimental, but catchy patchwork that housed too many different beasts (rockabilly rhythmics, psychedelic woo-hoos, folk vocal melody, Britpop bridge, etc.), was the first failure that was not even included on the LP (you can find it as a bonus track on today's CD versions). ʽLong Walking Down To Miseryʼ was much more straightforward, with a very strong, if also quite delicate and lyrical, delivery from Valentino, but its hooks (including an oddly fussy set of blues-rock acoustic flourishes during each chorus, disrupting the steady, lazy country flow of the melody) were probably too subtle for anyone to notice at the time.
Finally, there was ʽCherokee Girlʼ — a 3:30 «epic» tale of the troubled allegoric relations between the «Cherokee Girl» in question and her friend The Coyote (an influence on Joni Mitchell's subsequent ʽCoyoteʼ, perhaps? lyrically, at least, there may be some unpaid debt here), with an intelligent, subtly grand strings arrangement; but, again, probably a bit less focused and more «wimpy» than necessary for significant chart success in 1968.
Neither these nor any of the other songs hit as hard as ʽLaugh, Laughʼ, and in 1968, competition was so tough that you either had to land your hardest punch in one go, or refrain from hitting at all; and the delicate, intelligent charm of Bradley's Barn only emerges with a little bit of time. The biggest surprise is Valentino — at this point, he is a masterful crooner, not busy butchering great songs with crudely experimental vocalizing techniques, as he did on '66, or trying out various «unusual» styles of singing to match the magic-expecting wishes of the public in 1967, but simply delivering the message with plenty of power, a good sense of pitch, and elegant phrasing and modulation; honestly, Bradley's Barn could simply be one of the best «sung» records of the year. (Especially since the Hollies only released an album of Dylan covers that year — Allan Clarke would usually be Valentino's biggest direct competitor).
But many of these songs are quite interestingly written, in addition. ʽTurn Aroundʼ, for instance, through its «dark folk chords» adds a bit of menace, a faint devilish grin even, perhaps, to what could otherwise be just an innocent love story. ʽDeep Waterʼ is a country-rocker that really does rock, despite always staying in acoustic territory. ʽI'm A Sleeperʼ is an incidental response to the Beatles' ʽI'm Only Sleepingʼ as presented from the perspective of a talented hillbilly with a strange penchant for cello overdubs. Okay, really, none of these songs are all that great — what really matters is that they all sound nice, easy-going, natural, and with an underlying streak of good humor and irony.
Overall, Bradley's Barn is a very nice artefact for us to dig up after all these years — traditionalist as it is, the Brummels were still able to make it ring out with its own voice: rootsy, yes, but keeping its feet just a few inches above the ground, with echoey traces of fantasyland psychedelia still contained in its keyboards and strings arrangements. That the band (duo) finally disintegrated soon after the album flopped on the charts, even worse than Triangle, was probably inevitable, and, anyway, I am not sure that they would have been able to replicate Barn's subtle charms even one more time without going completely limp and lifeless on us. But speculation is one thing, and facts are another: Bradley's Barn is what we have, and it remains a solid «B-level» album from a rare era whose «solid B-level» offerings are well worth seeking out. Thumbs up.