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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Beau Brummels: The Beau Brummels (1975)


1) You Tell Me Why; 2) First In Line; 3) Wolf; 4) Down To The Bottom; 5) Tennessee Walker; 6) Singing Cowboy; 7) Goldrush; 8) The Lonely Side; 9) Gate Of Hearts; 10) Today By Day.

If there is a real reason why the Beau Brummels decided to make a comeback in 1974, I am al­most afraid to spell it out. They should have taken their clue from the original Byrds, who had already performed the trick one year earlier and, much to their surprise, discovered that most people couldn't care less about whether Crosby and McGuinn were generating their vibes toge­ther or separately. If the mighty Byrds couldn't do it, how could the not-so-mighty Beau Brum­mels stand a ghost of a chance?

They couldn't, but, for some reason, they still thought they could — had they reformed just for the fun of being together once again, they probably wouldn't have scattered in different directions as soon as the reunion album predictably flopped. Predictably, because in 1975, the Brummels' folk-/country-pop sound was either concentrated in the hands of «seriously charismatic» singer-songwriters, or mixed with a generic rock bottom to generate hits à la America. Elliott and Va­len­tino refused to go either way — and gave us an album that basically picked up exactly from where Bradley's Barn left off. No matter how experienced the experience, you could never re­liably tell that these songs were recorded in 1975.

The songs do not only sound timeless — they sound quite lovely. The entire atmosphere of Bradley's Barn, its mix of country-pop arrangements and folk melodicity, is carefully preserved, and Valentino has not lost one ounce of the confidence he so admirably gained in 1968. The over­all mood is a little heavier, and there is a higher percentage of dark, depressed numbers (ʽDown To The Bottomʼ, ʽWolfʼ, ʽGoldrushʼ, etc.), but that's one thing to be expected from the post-hip­pie era, and a little extra darkness never hurt anyone anyway — and, besides, the Brummels were well adapted to darkness ever since the lamenting intonations of ʽLaugh, Laughʼ.

The main problem, however, remains the same — most of these songs are eminently forgettable. Seven years of better-things-to-do had not produced any miracles: Elliott's songwriting skills are still mediocre, the band's playing has not improved, and the whole experience never for a single moment pushes anywhere beyond «nice». Perhaps they felt it too — or else why would they feel the need to re-record ʽYou Tell Me Whyʼ, a ten-year old single? (It's a fine re-recording, by the way, preserving all the hooks of the original and piling some new guitar flourishes on top — but it only makes the rest pale further by comparison).

ʽDown To The Bottomʼ was released as the lead single — a good choice, since the song's grim­ness, pessimism, and accompanying high-pitched, shrill electric guitar solos (courtesy of guest star Ronnie Montrose) do make it a stand­out of sorts. But this isn't Pink Floyd, and few people would want to be lectured on the misery issue by a band as lightweight as the Beau Brummels. Nor would anyone feel the urge to sit up and lis­ten as the feeble, delicate chords of ʽWolfʼ ring out in soft-rock mode, no matter how much they try to transform the "...crying wolf!" chorus into a catchpoint.

Every other song only seems to reinforce my point — the Beau Brummels' principal flaw is that you never know when their subtlety slides into weakness. Yes, these songs have potential, but the energy level is comparable to that of an activist two weeks into a hunger strike: even the frickin' drums sound like someone was much too afraid of breaking a drumstick. I mean, Joni Mitchell playing solo acoustic — at her best, that is — could produce more damn energy than this whole supposedly «rock» band.

For all of its niceties, I give the record a shaky thumbs up, but inten­ti­onally hunting for it is a waste of time unless your hobby is to build up a complete collection of 1970s country rock — an occupation that I'd find about as exciting as collecting matchboxes or bumper stickers, but hey, that's just an opinion.

Check "Beau Brummels" (CD) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. Their generic nature could have worked wonders in their favor, with just a bit more effort. They could have made it big on the soft rock market, simply by changing their name (no sense using a name that was already consigned to the deepest depths of oblivion) and grabbing a potential hit single from the demo vaults at Nashville. A bit of radio promotion, and voila! Another in the long line of one or two hit 70's soft rock wonders, a la Firefall/Pure Prairie League, etc.