The Beau Brummels – Turn AroundThe Beau Brummels: Turn Around – album review

Now Sounds

8CD/DL

Released 15 November 2021

The Complete Recordings 1964 – 1970 from San Francisco pop/rock band The Beau Brummels, containing a whopping 288 tracks. Their five albums are joined by a host of bonus items, with 24 of them previously unreleased. Everything has been remastered by Alec Palao, who has overseen the entire project. Over to Ian Canty, also known as “The Southern Dandy”…

The Beau Brummels were one of the key US bands to lead the charge of homegrown talent against the early 1960s “British Invasion”. They formed in San Francisco in 1964 as a five piece, with singer Sal Valentino, John Petersen on drums, bassist Ron Meagher and Irishman Declan Mulligan on rhythm guitar joined by Sal’s friend Ron Elliott. Having Ron was a crucial element, as with writing partner Bob Durand this gave them a built-in songwriting team which helped to put them ahead of the crowd. They selected their name after coming across 18th century dandy George Bryan “Beau” Brummell, which led to the happy accident of people thinking they were actually some trendy British band. This was something the band’s management actively encouraged, given the value attached to UK acts in the USA at the time.

The Brummels were quickly signed up by Autumn Records and sent to the studios to put together some early recordings with by one Sylvester Stewart, aka Sly Stone, behind the mixing desk. He would also oversee the debut album. Soon the single Laugh, Laugh/Still In Love With You Baby was released and it was an instant success. It eventually reached the number 15 position on the Billboard charts in the US, with perhaps only distribution issues stopping it going closer to the top.

1965 brought the band’s debut album Introducing The Beau Brummels and their biggest hit single, Just A Little. The LP kicked off with both sides of the debut 7 inch. Laugh, Laugh is smart folk pop with just the merest hint of garage and Still In Love With You Baby sports a more beat/surf sound. Just A Little comes next, a really commercial sound that was a deserved hit. Aside from these single releases, a fast moving Ain’t That Loving You Baby was one of only two tracks not penned by the band themselves. This and the tender They’ll Make You Cry are both pretty good, with the nasal vocal on the latter adding a touch of (intentional?) comedy.

That’s If You Want Me To is noticeably tougher and closing track Not Too Long Ago’s harmony vocals and guitar effects are pretty good. In summary Introducing…is a breezy and pleasant enough way of spending half an hour, with perhaps The Beau Brummels yet to truly settle on a style of their own. But they do make a good enough fist of what they turn their hands to here.

The bonus tracks on this disc offers us demos of Laugh, Laugh, which sounds if anything better than the single cut and Just A Little, which also crops up in a couple of alternate takes. The Beaus have a spirited go at garage staple Louie Louie and It’s All That Matters comes with a big chorus and a neat rhythm. Was it considered too edgy for the LP? If so, that is a shame. The nifty r&b number Woman, was held over for the second collection, where it appeared as an instrumental.

Elsewhere we get different versions of the album tracks that are a little more raw, with Ain’t That Loving You Baby in particular benefiting from a more raucous approach. Some of the vocal-less versions put the spotlight on the band’s musical lightness of touch. They all help to show the listener the band’s progress and to give a complete picture of their earliest work.

By the time of second album The Beau Brummels Volume 2, Autumn Records were teetering on the brink of disaster. Despite a couple of reasonably big hit singles in Tell My Why and Don’t Talk To Strangers, the LP failed to chart as a result of zero promotion and distribution problems that were the upshot of these record company difficulties. The tender and memorable folk rock of Tell Me Why sets the LP in motion. It is not surprising it was a success on the US charts and sets the template for the early part of the album, with the soaring vocals and downbeat atmosphere of I Want You and a Searchers’ style jangle of Doesn’t Matter quickly following on.

Snappy Sal Valentino song That’s Alright has a twist of r&b and Can It Be finished side one of the original vinyl issue with a speedy rhythm and some guitar inflections that recall Duane Eddy. Slowie Sad Little Girl was the first item on the flipside, a very light sound that had me wishing for a bit of the rawness the demos had on disc one of this set. The instrumental Woman lets a bit of that rough-edged fuzz back in and the pure pop spark of Don’t Talk To Strangers also passes muster. A jolly beat enlivens When It Comes To Love and the LP comes to an end with the short but refreshing garage buzz of In Good Time.

The Beau Brummels Volume 2 is a good collection of original material that the band apply a good deal of energy and craft to. Mulligan had been given his marching orders amidst some turmoil, so the Brummels were a quartet on this record. Sly Stone is again credited with production duties, but there is some conjecture to how much he actually contributed. Even so, it feels sad record company problems meant it sank without trace. Eighteen bonus tracks are appended to this disc and here we have mostly unused contemporary items, rather than demos or alternate takes. This part begins with Gentle Wand’rin Ways, where a beat pop/rock backing meet a drawling country-fried vocal.

I Grow Old is a nice folk pop thing festooned with a kind of old fashioned voiceover vocal style and there is a decent alternate take near the end of this disc too. I’ll Tell You drifts along dreamily after a similar fashion and there is a good stab at pure 1960s punk attitude called Down On Me. This is followed by the moody chill Of This Is Love, with Go Away later weaving a very pretty folk rock pattern. The Brummels’ Underdog is endowed with a thumping beat rhythm and Are You Sure is another neat number full of emotion. The BBs for some reason not to release many of these sterling items, which shows the strength of the material they had at the time. This disc finishes with two backing track attempts at I Will Go.

The Beau Brummels’ recording contract was sold by Autumn to the music arm of Warner Brothers, as the former label verged on collapse. For The Brummels it probably seemed like a good move – WB certainly had more promotional muscle than their previous label for one thing. What seems to be lost in time is the reason why the Beau Brummels ’66 LP was all covers of recent songs by well-known performers. For a band noted for self-penned material, looking at it from retrospect it seems an odd decision. What seems to have been the impetus for the covers seems to be that both the band and the label wanted a new album out as quickly as possible and this was the quickest way to do it.

The Beaus at the time were back to a five piece, as Don Irving had joined on guitar to deputise for Elliott who suffered from diabetic seizures on live shows and he also contributed in the studio. Unfortunately, as with a lot of cover version albums, there’s nothing much here that outshines the originals. It is a given that the band put in plenty of energy and craft and they do a creditable job on The Beatles’ You’ve Got To Hide You Love Away. Elsewhere it is easy enough listening without really engaging, with most of the songs so identified with their previous performers only something really drastic would have made a new version stand out. They do The Stones’ Play With Fire well enough, but cutting actor Trevor Peacock’s Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter is a step too far. The hip-speak sleeve note on the back of the sleeve repro is a hoot though.

The fifteen bonus tracks promise more, with the band’s feisty final chart single One Too Many Mornings, a Bob Dylan song, coming early on. On The Road shuffles along amiably and a gritty, sneer-infested Out Of Control is effectively snotty. Delilah is knotty and convincing r&b and the whirling folk rock of Here We Are Again feels original and smart. The folk psych/toytown pop of Candlestickmaker (later fleshed out to a 14 minute piece on Ron Elliott’s solo LP) is both a weird-out and a breeze, with Guitar Talk To Me continuing the vibe. It Ain’t No Use even sounds a bit like reggae, which is 1966 is nothing short of remarkable!

Though Beau Brummels ’66 was patently regarded as a damp squib by all concerned, better was soon to follow, but not after a great deal of inter-band strife. Irving was the first to leave and then a disillusioned Petersen joined Harpers Bizarre. The trio of Valentino, Elliott and Meagher drafted in many session musicians including Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Park and Carol Kaye from The Wrecking Crew for their ambitious new project Triangle.

Drawing on their core strengths of strong composition and folk pop melodies, The Beau Brummels broadened out their approach to include country rock and psychedelic influences. Album opener Are You Happy? delved into both areas winningly and Only Dreaming Now makes the most of the extra instrumentation, with strings playing a key role. The ornate musical settings are a big change from the beat group style of before, but it really works on pretty much everything here. It Won’t Get Better verges on MOR, but manage to be endearingly quirky too and Merle Travis’ Nine Pound Hammer is blessed with an intoxicating momentum, with some choice slide guitar playing a big part in its pull.

The orchestrated, enchanting psych of the album’s only single Magic Hollow kicked off the second side of the vinyl LP and the title track soon follows and feels suitably epic. The baleful, sparkling Wolf Of Velvet Fortune and a cover of Randy Newman’s Old Kentucky Home end Triangle, perhaps The Beau Brummels most satisfying collection. It was some distance long way from where they started out, but the folk/psych/country crossover the had come up with fitted them like a glove.

Again we have a load of tracks contemporary to Triangle as a bonus on this disc. The Byrds-style jangle of Galadriel starts the extras section well and a demo version also crops up later. Two Days ‘Til Tomorrow doesn’t make sense as a title, but the tune itself is a bit of a big production gem. Elevators aka Lower Level sounds gently trippy and an alternate take of Lift Me is so good and interesting instrumentally too. I Love You Mama finds The Brummels in a firm country mode, something that would tend to dominate their future recordings and a version of showtune 42nd Street is included. It was originally credited to the name Lionel Reeves & Stella Parker and somehow this oldie fit right in with the band’s downbeat sound at the time.

The fifth and final (until a 1975 reunion yielded a self-titled effort) Beau Brummels album Bradley’s Barn arrived in October 1968. By this time the band were down to just Elliot and Valentino, as Meagher had been called up by the US military. Named after the studio where the record was set down on tape, this LP saw the pair focus further on the country element in their work. The additional musicians were mostly drawn form that field too. It’s an elegantly paced and satisfying work with some excellent songs. Which makes it all the more maddening that it was pretty much the end of the line for The BBs.

Bradley’s Barn lets the listener in on its modus operandi early on with by a rootsy and passionate Turn Around and the slow honky tonk of Valentino’s An Added Attraction (Come And See Me) is simply gorgeous. Then follows Deep Water, which takes a neat step back towards the sunny pop/rock that made the band’s name. Little Bird’s spacy blues psych and sense of drama enchants, before a soaring Cherokee Girl makes its presence felt. The strings on this track are excellent, adding real gravitas. It was the second single taken from the album, the first being Long Walking Down To Misery, but both sank without trace.

If the chart days were over for the Beaus, they were now at their creative peak. The sleepy but charming Loneliest Man In Town and a driving Love Can Fall A Long Way Down showed they hadn’t lost their knack of making interesting and original pop music. Bradley’s Barn nears the end with the beautiful Jessica, before they dip into the Randy Newman songbook again for a country pickin’ take of Bless You California.

The extras on this disc are outtakes and alternate versions from around the time of the album as before. We also get two sides of Sal Valentino’s single A Little At A Time, a great heavy psych version of a Johnny Cash number. Tan Oak Tree is a really graceful and delicate folk rock item that for some unknown reason remained unissued until the 2005 Magic Hollow boxset. It’s a treat and the pared back and Ron Elliott’s spooky Black Crow hits the spot as well. The second version of I Love You Mama spins along nicely and an alternate take of Jessica is very cleverly accomplished.

The other three discs in this set concentrate on a 1965 session that tried out material for possible inclusion on their second album, one for Sal and Ron’s solo works, plus a round up of single tracks. The Autumn Demo Session 16 April 1965, to give disc 6 of this set its official title, finds the original line up of The Beau Brummels at this early stage at home in the studio. They sound relaxed, but able to apply energy and power when needs be. The latter qualities are demonstrated on opening track I Will Go and a spirited That’s Alright. Declan Mulligan features as both a player and a songwriter, with the blazing attack of She’s My Girl and a speedy Lowdown offering up the mouth-watering possibility that had he stayed with the band it, perhaps would have given them another dimension. His tune Brown Eyes is also very cool beat pop as well.

There are a few throwaway items like It’s So Nice and News, but of the majority of what is here is very enjoyable and even the lesser material is dispatched with gusto. I very much liked the wistful folk pop of the Sad Little Girl demo, one of the few tracks that actually made the Volume 2 LP. Towards the middle of this disc there is more of a quieter, folk feel which is evidenced by the laidback and moody I’m Alone Again. Someday’s mix of light jangle and harmony vocals goes down well and a restrained and very well-performed Tomorrow Is Another Day is a joy to hear. A demo of Woman peters out after just over a minute, but then the beat pop sound People Are Cruel and Stick Like Glue impress. A rehearsal take of Believe In Me guides us to the end of a disc littered with gems, which will stand a chance of pleasing the most diehard Beau Brummels fan I would think.

The Sal and Ron disc features the pair cutting demos for the band on their own and as a duo. They sound swell teaming up on the acoustic disc opener The Dreamer and a beautiful This Is Love. Some of these demos later ended up as singles and album tracks for the band, like Only Dreaming Now, which sounds pretty great scaled right back to Sal and guitar. Of Valentino’s offerings, for me his prison song On The Road Again stood out and Sunny Day Rain is full of feelgood charm. Walking In The Park, an unused song from the period before the Triangle LP, flows nicely and though the metronome percussion is off-putting, his Magic Hollow demo is ace. When his voice cracks on Stay With Me Awhile, it is an unguarded but totally endearing moment.

Ron shines on a bright atmospheric I Cannot Hide and on the double-track of Till The Day, where he effectively duets with himself. No Lonelier Man and Kill are both very entertaining and the fatalistic Coming Home are good examples of Elliott’s ability with just guitar and voice. He imbues Darkness with a mystery in its wordy rush and there is such warmth to his Fine With Me demo. Ron and Sal’s work gel perfectly, with I’ve Never Known and Love Me Quick their respective and very creditable parting shots. I really enjoyed this disc a great deal – it is possibly my favourite of the whole set.

The final section of this set brings together the mixes of single tracks not featured previously. This is a breeze and works as a good introduction for anyone new to the band. You can listen to the band progress from their Laugh, Laugh crafty beat roots, to the folk rock excellence of Don’t Talk To Strangers, to country-flecked stoned psychedelia sound featured on the likes of Long Walking Down To Misery. Most of the material is heard in different forms earlier in the set, but it is good to have these additional mixes. Goodtime Music, a minor hit single and rockin’ version of a John Sebastian number, makes its first appearance though and also there are four Sal Valentino solo tracks that end the set. These are mostly in a chugging folk/blues style, but the more straight pop of Friends And Lovers sparkles.

Turn Around The Complete Recordings 1964 – 1970 is a necessarily weighty collection and feels pleasingly complete. It gives anyone interested in The Beau Brummels, or 1960s’ music in general, a thorough listening experience and an entertaining education. Alec Palao has done a fine job of pulling this all together, with remastering that helps bring the band’s work into sharp clarity. The accompanying booklet filled with insight from band members, who have also dug into their own archives for rare pictures and various items of memorabilia. Each song is commented on and the design job is groovy to boot. This project was clearly a labour of love for the compilers – it really pays off in what is a lovely release.

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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