By Richie Unterberger

When the Beau Brummels recorded Bradley's Barn in 1968, they joined the ranks of many established rock artists moving into country-rock in the wake of Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding album. Like many of the early country-rockers, however, the group had deeper roots in country music than many realized at the time. Country had been guitarist and principal Beau Brummels songwriter Ron Elliott's chief musical influence as a child,  and he still remembers his grandmother playing Lefty Frizzell when he was growing up. The early Beau Brummels records in the mid-1960s are mostly noted for their blends of British Invasion and folk-rockish styles. But even then there was often a tinge of country, and sometimes more than a tinge, as on their 1965 recording of Elliott's beautiful ballad "Dream On."

    The country elements had come more to the fore on their 1967 album Triangle, particularly on their cover of Merle Travis's "Nine Pound Hammer." That LP was produced by Lenny Waronker, then just establishing himself as a power at Warner Brothers as the label started to move in more progressive directions at the end of the 1960s. Waronker would also be the producer when the band traveled to Nashville to record what would turn out to be their swan song for Warner Brothers, and their last album in their original incarnation, Bradley's Barn.

    It was not the best of times for the band commercially. After a false start on Warner Brothers with the all-covers album Beau Brummels '66, Triangle had been the band's first real opportunity to craft a strong, coherent album showcasing their increasingly sophisticated songwriting and arrangements. But even though Triangle had attracted rave reviews from both the mainstream and underground press, it had peaked at a mere #197 nationally.

    More alarmingly, the Beau Brummels, a quintet back when they began recording for Autumn Records in 1964, were getting shaved down to the core duo of Elliott and singer Sal Valentino, rather in the way the Byrds had been reduced from a quintet to the duo of Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman by the beginning of 1968. Even on Triangle, they'd been just a trio bolstered by session musicians. In Marti Smiley Childs and Jeff March's Echoes of the Sixties, bassist Ron Meagher recalled being drafted into the army before Bradley's Barn's completion: "I remember being right in the middle of a recording session for Bradley's Barn, and I had to leave with about only three-quarters of the tracks laid down."

    Bradley's Barn was finished, however, with much assistance from A-team Nashville session musicians. "Lenny Waronker wanted to go to Nashville to record an album," Elliott told me in a 1999 interview. "He thought country was a good place to go for us. So we went and recorded at Bradley's Barn" -- the famed Nashville studio named for legendary Nashville country producer Owen Bradley -- "and, boy, those players were unbelievable. It was so much fun to do that. Lenny wanted to do that album, so I wrote with that in mind.

    "But it wasn't so far from the Triangle approach. We weren't trying to do country. We were trying to do Beau Brummels country, which was a totally different thing. But it didn't really catch on."

    Supporting Elliott and Valentino were Nashville aces Jerry Reed (guitar), David Briggs (keyboards), Norbert Putnam (bass), and Kenneth Buttrey (drums). Yet Elliott's correct to point out that the album wasn't really that much of an about-face from Triangle, though the arrangements were more guitar-oriented and less orchestrated than those on its predecessor. A song such as "Love Can Fall a Long Way Down" was very much like the haunting folk-rock that had been the group's trademark since the beginning, and others like "Deep Water" and "Cherokee Girl" were more country-influenced pop-folk-rock than they were country-rock. Country was more an accent than a focus, though on songs like "Loneliest Man in Town," "Long Walking Down to Misery," and "An Added Attraction (Come And See Me)," they did take the opportunity to go deeper into country than they ever had. The then-little-known Randy Newman, a longtime friend of Waronker's, had placed one of his songs ("Old Kentucky Woman") on Triangle, and provided Bradley's Barn's oddball closer, "Bless You California."

    "The Bradley's Barn stuff was pretty good," Valentino told me in a 1999 interview. "Basically I did everything live, which is something I hadn't done before. That was one of the reasons I liked that one so much. But it was fun. The guys were fun to be with; it went well; we had a good time doing it.

    "The idea was basically to do a record there with some of the best players available. We didn't go there and get the steel guitars and the violins and stuff. We pretty much did a Beau Brummel album, which is what we were trying to do, Ron doing the writing and playing, and my doing the singing. It wasn't, 'Let's go in and do a country-rock album.' It worked. Through all this time, we're still trying to come up with a single; along with doing that album and Triangle, kept thinking that we had one. But we never got one, for some reason."

    Around the time of Bradley's Barn, Elliott got involved with the Everly Brothers, writing, playing guitar on, and arranging their 1968 single "Empty Boxes." Ron also wrote a couple of the songs, "Turn Around" (which also appeared on Bradley's Barn) and "Ventura Boulevard," on the Everlys' own 1968 country-rock album, Roots. Roots didn't sound too dissimilar to Bradley's Barn, particularly as Waronker produced both records. And both albums were destined to be championed by critics in retrospect as interesting early country-rock landmarks, but sold little at the time.

    The Beau Brummels finally broke up not long after Bradley's Barn, though both Elliott and Valentino would continue to record in other contexts, and there would be a Beau Brummels reunion album in 1975. While their demise was premature, Bradley's Barn enabled them to wrap up their career with the same class, dignity, and careful attention to artistry that had typified most of the work of one of the most underrated groups of the 1960s. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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