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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Beau Brummels: Live!


1) Nine Pound Hammer; 2) You Tell Me Why; 3) Turn Around / Singing Cowboy; 4) Gate Of Hearts; 5) Lonely People; 6) Music Speaks Louder; 7) Lisa; 8) Tennessee Walker; 9) Don't Talk To Strangers; 10) Laugh, Laugh; 11) Lonesome Town; 12) Free; 13) Man And Woman Kind; 14) Restless Soul; 15) Her Dream Alley; 16) City Girl; 17) Paper Plane; 18) Just A Little; 19) Love Can Fall.

For a band as «historically insignificant» as the Beau Brummels, they do seem to have a rather disproportionate amount of archival releases honoring their legacy — including a monumental 3-CD collection of demos, outtakes and rarities (San Fran Sessions) that is not easily available, and, anyway, the perspective of sitting through 60 samples of «second-rate» material by one of America's classic «second-rate» band may not look all that appealing even to an obsessive com­pletist: a gross excess of the allocated quota if there ever was one.

In its place, it is more useful and pleasant to mention this, much shorter, archival release of a live show that the reunited Brummels played in February '74 in some little-known pub near Sacra­mento. For some reason, the show happened to be professionally recorded — with no less than excellent sound quality — only to surface officially twenty-five years later, licensed by the small Dig Music label based in Sacramento.

There are two reasons to be happy about it. First, this is the only Beau Brummels live album in existence, and what is a rock band without a live album, even a bad one? Second, the time of the show caught the Brummels in a highly creative mode — Ron Elliott was writing like crazy for the 1975 reunion album, and most of that writing went through a live testing period; 13 out of 19 songs are newly-penned, and, what is most interesting, only three of them actually ended up on The Beau Brummels, so there is a swarm of previously unavailable material here, and not in «raw demo» form, either: these are fully fleshed out compositions that the reformed band was not afraid to offer for their limited, but rowdy audience.

As a live unit, the reformed Brummels sounded predictably professional and predictably not all that exciting compared to the studio recordings. The vocal harmonies are not too good, particular­ly when it comes to stretching out on the high notes — the "babe, babe, babe" chorus on ʽDon't Talk To Strangersʼ goes painfully on the ears, and Sal's «macho bleating» (I'm all out of words, goddammit) on ʽMan And Woman Kindʼ is another seriously stressful moment. But in general, when they are not trying too hard, the outcome matches the quality of the original recordings just fine — ʽNine Pound Hammerʼ and ʽTurn Aroundʼ are the major highlights, and the melancholic harmonica of ʽLaugh, Laughʼ has not lost a drop of the original melancholia.

But generally, the album is really worth it for several of the new songs that did not make it onto the 1975 record (they might, perhaps, have made it onto subsequent recordings, had the reformed band persevered for a couple extra seasons). ʽMusic Speaks Louderʼ is a lively, friendly pub romp very much in the spirit of the Lovin' Spoonful, and it's funny how its wah-wah-driven guitar parts unexpec­tedly contrast with the overall soft folksy melody. Bassist Declan Mulligan's ʽLisaʼ is a moderately heavy rocker with idiot lyrics, but a nice muscular drive that would be so sorely lack­ing on The Beau Brummels. So is Elliott's ʽRestless Soulʼ; and ʽFreeʼ is one of the band's pretti­est anthemic ballads (although, once again, it loses momentum whenever Valentino starts stretch­ing out — alas, Frank Sinatra this guy is not).

Overall, it is very good that the show does not go too heavy on the «classics» and leaves such a huge space for new material, even if this prevents it from becoming a well-rounded, conclusive «live retrospective». Altogether, there is more energy, passion, and interest here than the band demonstrated in the studio — maybe because by the time they did get around to the studio, dis­illusionment had already started seeping in. As it is, Beau Brummels Live! may not deserve its exclamation point, but it may at least be a better example of the reformed band at its brief inspirational peak, so one more final thumbs up is not out of the question.

Check "Beau Brummels Live!" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Beau Brummels Live!" (MP3) on Amazon

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