This is a very alluring and also a somewhat misleading CD. On the plus side, just to dispel any doubts, it is live, and it does feature the five-man Beau Brummels (Sal Valentino, Ron Elliott, Ron Meagher, Dec Mulligan, and John Petersen). And this is a good, professional recording. The rub is that it does date from their reunion in 1974, appearing live at the Shire Road Pub in Fair Oaks Village near Sacramento, CA; although the sound is fine, the playing is precise (and occasionally flashy), and the singing is very pretty, they just weren't a very exciting band at this point -- definitely not the same band they'd been in 1965-1966, despite the fact that they were probably better musicians. A byproduct of the group's short-lived reunion (which also yielded a complete studio album on Warner Bros.), this live set is nothing to be overlooked by any completist fan of folk-rock or mid-'60s pop/rock, but neither is it as compelling as one would hope. It may have been the fact that they were in their 30s instead of their 20s, past the excitement that went with touring regularly, cutting a new single every three or four months, and getting press coverage alongside the likes of the Byrds et al., but there's little urgency in most of the music-making here, pretty and professional though it is.
"Turn Around/Singing Cowboy" is a case in point: a beautiful jam that melds two songs together in a surprising fashion at its conclusion, its attractiveness is more languid than compelling. And poignant and well-written though it is, "Gate of Hearts" is more a solo spot for Ron Elliott as a singer/songwriter than a real Beau Brummels number. And some of the material here, such as "Music Speaks Louder," is just plain flaccid country rock of the kind that gave the music a bad name for many listeners. Amazingly, it is the Dec Mulligan co-authored "Lisa" that at least tries for a revival of the group's mid-'60s sound, with multi-layered guitars and an edgy vocal. This side of their sound doesn't manifest itself properly, however, except on the revivals of their original repertory -- "Don't Talk to Strangers" and "Laugh, Laugh" suddenly bring back the original group, exciting and lyrical, with a punchy beat and rich harmonies. Live! is a decent CD, especially if one skips over the wimpier songs, but it isn't remotely the revelation that one would expect or wish for -- the producers might at least have been more honest by foregoing the exclamation point.