One great thing about Record Store Day (RSD) and streaming services like Tidal is that you get turned on to often long out-of-print and sometimes obscure-but-revered recordings which you may have missed along the way. For me this year, one such release comes from none other than San Francisco's "answer" (if you will) to The Beatles, the influential pop rock band, The Beau Brummels. Despite national success and critical acclaim, by 1968, the hits had dried up and members of the band had been drafted reducing the group to a duo. The times indeed were a changin' again and after the quick ramp up of tight Merseybeat flavored pop gave way to psychedelia around 1966-67, by 1968 many were seeking simpler greener pastures... And so went The Beau Brummels along with Bob Dylan, The Byrds and The Band, a return to simpler sounds was in the air, each delivering their respective roots albums John Wesley Harding, Sweethearts of the Rodeo and Music From Big Pink.
Accordingly, instead of "goin' up the country" (as Canned Heat sang around this time in their Top 20 hit), Warner Brothers Records took the band down to Nashville to record in the barn-studio of legendary producer Owen Bradley (ie. the man behind Patsy Cline, among others). Called Bradley's Barn, the resulting album was great but it more or less stiffed and fell into the legion of lost classics, highly desired by record collectors and Brummels fans alike. To that, I personally had never been able to get my hands on a copy of the album until RSD this year when Bradley's Barn was reissued as a two LP set by Rhino/Warners' Run Out Groove imprint.
I can immediately hear why Bradley's Barn has grown in stature as a legendary early example of what later became known as "Country-Rock." But while this was a sweet taste of farm fresh air and sparkling rivers and lakes, I don't think it is fair to pin this album down to one genre. It is more than that. For example the gloriously bookended sparklers that close side one and begin side two -- "Cherokee Girl" and "I'm A Sleeper" sound like songs which then emerging LA folk-rock singer Tim Buckley could have easily recorded, perhaps by way of Sunshine Superman-era Donovan.
From what I've been hearing over the years about this album, some folks seem to position Bradley's Barn as out of step with the times. However, if you look at the music coming out around then, stylistically it fit in neatly alongside James Taylor's wonderful eponymous 1968 debut on Apple Records. The album has some of the artful whimsey found on Van Dyke Parks' Song Cycle (from 1967, on which at least one Beau Brummel member performed). And, even early Harry Nilsson's breakthrough album Aerial Ballet comes to mind. Bradley's Barn at times leans toward the sort of electric-folk-rock sounds The Jefferson Airplane explored at points that year on Crown of Creation and perhaps even where Quicksilver Messenger Service would go in 1970 with its Just For Love album and the hit "Fresh Air." Bradley's Barn was definitely a forward looking recording...
The sound on this reissue is very good, pressed on lovely multi-colored splatter (mosty) translucent champagne vinyl. My copy is quiet and well centered. Running at about 30 minutes long, Bradley's Barn is an average length album for the period but in this reissue it is complemented by an entire separate disc of outtakes and alternates so you certainly get your money's worth on this lovely package. Unfortunately, if you are wondering how the reissue compares to the original pressings, I can't really help you there as I have never owned a copy. So... I am going to just enjoy this in its own right.
The Run Out Groove website reports that this in fact is the first U.S. repressing on vinyl since it's original release in 1968 and that the new edition is sourced from the original masters with lacquers cut at Sam Phillips Recording Studio. So there seems to be some credible vinyl pedigree happening here and it generally the album sounds pretty terrific.
The bonus disc of outtakes and alternates is a bit bigger sounding than the album, but that isn't surprising since these were probably -- and I'm guessing here folks -- taken from mixes that were not put through the sort of compression used on making hit records back in the day, part of the sound of records back then. So these bonus tracks sound a bit more dynamic and open. More than just throwaways, these are some solid tracks and very much in keeping with the vibe of the rest of the Bradley's Barn album; this is very much like getting two Beau Brummels albums in one. Some of my faves thus far on the bonus disc include side three opener "Lift Me" and the swampy alternate take of "Deep Water."
There are some nice hooks here which grabbed me after only a listen or two. Mostly, its the sound of the album that grabbed me; its like discovering a missing piece of the puzzle that is mid 60s pop music.
As a fan of the early Beau Brummels, I was more than willing to take a chance on buying this album not having ever heard a note -- I was more than curious about Bradley's Barn's reputation. However, I know many of you may not be quite so bold. This is where a service like Tidal comes in super handy. You can find Bradley's Barn streaming up there in CD quality and it sounds quite nice overall. Nonetheless, I'm still happy having this in a vinyl package replete with it's glorious glossy laminated, better-than-vintage-style thick-cardboard cover-stock and a new gatefold design to accommodate the bonus disc. This is a premium reissue in all respects.
Now that I know the album a bit more -- and that there are quality reissues available which appeal to a certain type of music collector -- perhaps it will increase the chances of my finding an original pressing for my collection at a somewhat more reasonable price. Until then, this is more than adequate and extremely enjoyable. You should poke around your favorite stores to see if RSD leftovers of Bradley's Barn are available. eBay may be another option for those of you who like to purchase things on line as well as on Discogs. It is also affordably available on CD too.
Beau Brummell mania is peaking again it seems! Get back to the barn and find out what the fuss is all about.