THE BEAU BRUMMELS: VOL. 2 (1965)
1) You Tell Me Why; 2) I Want You; 3) Doesn't Matter; 4) That's Alright; 5) Sometime At Night; 6) Can It Be; 7) Sad Little Girl; 8) Woman; 9) Don't Talk To Strangers; 10) I've Never Known; 11) When It Comes To Your Love; 12) In Good Time.
Ouch, bad mistake. Instead of trying to capitalize on their personal strengths — the mournful vibe of ʽLaugh Laughʼ, for instance — The Beau Brummels, completely seduced by and envious of the success of the Byrds, decided to adjust their sound to the standards set by McGuinn and Co. The results were not so much «bad» as they were disastrous. Perhaps in simple terms of «hooks», Ron Elliott could stand some competition with Gene Clark (although even here the bands were at a serious disadvantage — the Byrds had at least three accomplished songwriters, the Brummels only had one). But in terms of everything else — instrumentation, technicality, arrangements, unexpected sources of inspiration, etc. — the band did not stand a chance; and if there ever was a moment in their career when the term «poor man's Byrds» could be appropriate, it was right here.
The two lead singles, ʽYou Tell Me Whyʼ and ʽDon't Talk To Strangersʼ, are two lovely little folk-pop creations that both succeeded in hitting the charts, but both — particularly the latter, with its jangly melody and the lead singer's (subconscious?) imitation of Roger McGuinn's phrasing — are only enjoyable to a full extent if your experience has not been previously tampered with Mr. Tambourine Man (and Turn! Turn! Turn!, although the latter, to be fair, was only released after the Brummels' second album). The vocal harmonies are lovely, but the guitar sound is so thin and wimpy that the songs just don't seem capable of being hammered into your brain with the proper energy (unlike the Byrds, where every final pluck of McGuinn's and Crosby's guitars was always delivered with perfect self-assurance — at least that's what my intuitive feelings are whispering at the moment).
Tracks that are less obviously «byrdsey» turn out to be more impressive at the end of the day. The real major highlight is probably ʽSad Little Girlʼ, a melancholic mid-tempo ballad with a highly repetitive structure whose main point of attraction is a subtly arranged crescendo: considering the band's relatively low instrumental skills and relatively poor instrumental inventory, they do a great job adding layer after layer of guitars, percussion, harmonicas, and vocal harmonies, and eventually transform the song into a mini-anthem.
Another unexpected highlight, for me, is ʽWomanʼ, a fast R'n'B number that they first recorded in a fully vocalized arrangement (the «lyrical» version can be found as a bonus track on the CD edition), but then decided instead to include in an instrumental version, with acoustic and electric guitars taking turns to mimic the vocal melody. The results are cute, funny, and somewhat atypical for the era (not a lot of people were interested in working out acoustic leads for electric rockers) — atypical for the Brummels themselves, in fact, but that might be all for the better, considering that «typical Brummels» for this album means «let's do it like the Byrds do, as best we can».
There are no real in-yer-face embarrassments on the album — most of these folk-poppers and «soft-garage-rockers» have their moments, but they hardly deserve individual descriptions. It does not help, either, that the subject matters of the songs remain slight and formulaic — it's all in the traditional love-my-girl ballpark, with the exception of ʽDon't Talk To Strangersʼ, which tries to deliver a message ("follow your own beaten path, wander where you can't be grabbed"), but not very convincingly or effectively.
All in all, it's a nice little album, but the train was running speedy in late '65, and Vol. 2 failed to catch it, forever grounding the Brummels in the losers' lounge: while their story was far from over, and the stock of creative energy would still be enough to carry them through the psychedelic years, this sophomore semi-success (certainly not a «sophomore slump» — the album deserves a friendly thumbs up in any case) forever buried any hopes of the band joining the big league, which may not seem like a big deal in our indie-soaked days, but certainly was a big deal back in the old days, and explains the oblivion into which the Brummels had sunk before being dragged out by the ears by the likes of Richie Unterberger, along with their many pals and competitors.
Check "Vol. 2" (MP3) on Amazon