Mysterious new Beau Brummels album offers answers and questions.
Continuum is a collection of tracks built around demos originally written and recorded by Ron Eliott, the sometimes hermitic and mysterious leader of the group. This album takes an organic approach, featuring full-band recordings with appearances by all the living members of the group, including Ron Eliott, Declan Mulligan, Sal Valentino and Ron Meagher.
The new album was produced by Lou Dorren, a respected producer and engineer on the west coast. The production quality is not terrible, but could have been much better. It seems as though Dorren did the best he could to incorporate tracks taped at the recent Beau Brummels studio reunion while utilizing the existing demo recordings. There are moments where you may wonder why Dorren did not scrap the demos and re-record them professionally during the studio sessions with the band members, who are all accomplished musicians and players. One positive element you will notice immediately is that the voices of Ron Elliott and Sal Valentino retain 95% of their original energy and earthy charm. It certainly would be a waste if these guys were to never work together and make music again.
My main regret about this album is that it seems to have been poorly planned and executed. Those who have not read the album’s press release and do not know the back story might be quick to label this disc as a Ron Elliott solo project rather than a full-scale Beau Brummels album. I will admit, there are moments when the album fails to embrace the band’s legacy. It is especially painful knowing that all of the core members were involved in the making of the album. Sal Valentino seems to take the backseat in the project, probably out of respect to Elliott, who according to most biographies, has been his friend since childhood. In changing the dynamics of the band, it seems as though Elliott inadvertently disrespects the fans and tradition of the group by selfishly dominating the project. Depending on how you look at it, that can be good or bad.
Under the right circumstances, Elliott is a musical genius and his songwriting and musical vision have been compared to that of Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys. Think back to “Triangle,” the Beau Brummels’ fourth studio album and a worthy contender to the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.” After that came “Bradley’s Barn,” a terrific country-rock album released by the Brummels in 1968. That LP became a labor of love for Elliott and Valentino, who were technically the only two original members at the time and that recording saw the duo backed by a host of top-notch Nashville session players such as Jerry Reed. Elliott might have been the brains behind the project, but the album gave the appearance that he and Valentino were working more on a level playing field. It would be nice if Dorren and Elliott would have allowed Valentino to contribute more to the production and direction on “Continuum.” Sometimes it takes a second or third opinion for an artist to realize that his recordings need more work or may not be of the best possible quality.
Some fans may wonder why the CD features such confusing artwork. None of the characters in the album’s cover art show a resemblance to the band members or how they look in 2013. All of the members have aged much better than the old men displayed in the artwork, which depicts English aristocratic men from the 1700s and 1800s. I suspect that the painting was never intended to represent the likenesses of Eliott, Meagher, Valentino and Mulligan.
As you know, Ron Elliott was the main songwriter, rhythm guitarist and secondary singer in the Beau Brummels. Sal Valentino was the handsome poster boy and primary lead singer, who sang lead on most of the band's biggest hits and played tambourine. Declan Mulligan and Ron Meagher both played bass and lead guitar in different lineups of the group and are master musicians in their own right. John Petersen was the original drummer, although he passed away in from a heart attack 2007 and prior to the making of this album. Fortunately, producer Lou Dorren was able to employ drum tracks previously recorded by Petersen.
The Beau Brummels’ hit song "Laugh, Laugh" was named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's exhibit showcasing The 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll". Additionally, all of Beau Brummels’ original members were featured in animated form on an episode of The Flintstones, where they were dubbed "The Beau Brummelstones."
The March 2013 “Continuum” press release claims that producer and engineer Lou Dorren approached Ron Elliott with the idea of releasing a new Beau Brummels album. It's a miracle Elliott agreed to launch the project, considering he has spent the past 40 years in and out of virtual seclusion. Aside from reunions with The Beau Brummels in the 1970s and the critically acclaimed solo album and folk-rock masterpiece “The Candlestickmaker,” Elliott has somehow managed to distance himself from the press. During the 1990s and 2000s, fans often questioned whether or not Elliott was still living. Part of this speculation was fueled by Elliott’s lack of participating in subsequent reunions in 2000 and 2002. I attended those reunion concerts with hopes that Elliott would make an appearance, but never even spotted him in the audiences. Thankfully, our worst fears did not become reality. Declan Mulligan and Ron Meagher appear to be healthy and to everyone’s surprise, have aged gracefully. Eliott also looks to be well, showcasing his short stature and typically thin frame. Age has not prevented Sal Valentino from keeping the flame burning. Since the early 2000s, Sal Valentino has remained active in music as a performer and recording artist. His numerous solo albums feature a blend of folk, country and rock resembling the sounds of the Beau Brummels, Bob Dylan and The Byrds.
Although Valentino’s albums boast quality production values and good songs, they lack the rock presence of The Beau Brummels. Consider the solo albums Roger McGuinn has recorded and how they would have benefited from the inclusion of living members of The Byrds. We can safely assume that it was never Valentino’s intention to recreate the Brummels as a solo artist, although there are some similarities between both projects. The fact of the matter is Mulligan, Meagher and Elliott should never be replaced with generic session musicians.
Fans of the Beau Brummels will be asking many questions about the current state of the group. Why did they wait so long to reunite for an album? Will they launch a reunion tour or series of live dates in support of the new album? Will they record a more polished follow-up to “Continuum?” While the core members are healthy and able to play, it would be nice if they could come out of their shells and create more memories through recording and performing. Until then, “Continuum” will have to suffice. Of course, a follow-up would be much appreciated.
As I tell everyone, the Beau Brummels are the greatest rock band in the world. I have dedicated countless hours to the preservation of their memory and always with a hope in the back of my mind that they might someday reunite to perform and record again. In the early 2000s, I attended the Beau Brummels reunion concerts. Although very entertaining, neither lineup was close to being complete. It was especially frustrating at that time, knowing that the other members were still among the living.
Instead of solely being critical of the band and their new recording, I would like to take this opportunity to offer a solution which has the potential to please all fans. I propose that we setup a page on Kickstarter and raise money to fund a new album by The Beau Brummels. The new album could either be a live recording or another studio record. The funds raised would be used to pay for studio time and production/manufacturing costs. Are you in?