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Monday, April 2, 2012

The Beau Brummels, "Triangle"

The Beau Brummels
Warner Brothers (1967)

1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die + 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

Alright, so we just finished a long slog of Beatles albums as part of Tom Moon's book. To ease us off off the '60s pop stylings of the world's biggest band, Moon introduces us to The Beau Brummels, one of the countless bands that formed as a result of The Beatles' success (other examples we've looked at: The Kinks and The Animals).

The Brummels are a vastly different animal however. Although they started simply enough, like The Beatles, they are claimed among the purveyors of the "San Francisco Style" rock scene. San Francisco was at the forefront of the American psychedelic movement and likewise psychedelic music, thanks to its beatniks and artists. Notable (and better) examples of the style are The Grateful Dead and Santana. The Brummels certainly has its moments on "Triangle," the band's most critically acclaimed work, but you should not expect anything reminiscent of the previous two groups.

Most of the album is acoustic, save for a smattering of background electric guitar, a fact that sets them apart from the expectations of a San Francisco rock band of that era. Much of the album actually has a significant bluegrass feel thanks to the finger-plucking style used on the acoustic guitar, emulating a banjo. James Burton, a legend of rockabilly guitar, is listed as a session musician in the album's credits, which is a plausible suggestion for the method but it doesn't indicate which tracks were his. Until someone tells me otherwise, credit for the approach on tracks like "Are You Happy?" and "Only Dreaming Now" among others, goes to primary guitarist Ron Elliott.

The band doesn't stick to a strict instrumental regiment. Amongst the plucked-guitars and drums lie French horns and trombones and other instruments depending on the track. The album's single "Magic Hollow" includes the accordion and the harpsichord (played by Van Dyke Parks, a contributor to Joanna Newsom and Brian Wilson for albums we've already looked at), and "Only Dreaming Now" features accordion alongside cello and violin. Both of these tracks are also among the most truly psychedelic on the album, dabbling in Tolkien-style fantasy themes and, of course, using mild echo effects on the vocals.

If anyone is scared away by the idea of an acoustic, psychedelic band after listening to The Incredible String Band earlier in the blog, don't sweat it. The Brummels lyrics are less of a trip than String Band, and nearly every song on "Triangle" is just more than two-minutes, as opposed to the epic jams favored by other psychedelic bands. But, if you're dead set (pun intended) on hearing some true San Francisco style-rock 'n' roll, don't worry. Those bands will come.

INTERESTING FACT: The real Beau Brummel was a British fashion icon during the early 19th Century. As a friend to the king, he had some clout, and he's credited with popularizing the tailored men's suit and tie, a trend which continues to this day. "Dandyism" is the British moniker for his exact style. One piece of fashion advice from him I suggest you not follow: shining your shoes with champagne.

Only Dreaming Now by Beau Brummels on Grooveshark


  1. Technically the lead vocalist was Sal Valentino, not Ron Elliott (who wrote most of the tracks). I initially was not overly amazed by Beau Brummels the first time I heard them, but when the 1000 Recordings Podcast guys played some clips on their show I went back and listened again. I couldn't help but think of (San Francisco-based) Devendra Banhart. I ended up sending an email to Valentino and doing an interview for my site: It was really interesting to talk to him, especially considering all the great folks he has worked with over the years. Their legacy has been mostly underground, but back in the day they were huge, so it's interesting to hear his thoughts looking back (he is really laid back and not that much into being a "rock star").

  2. Devendra Banhart is a good reference point for sure, and nice work going out and finding Sal Valentino! Nice to know that "rock stars" can still be relatable every once in a while.