Val McCallum's Beau Bow de Lune
is a deceptively modest piece of work. Fitting neatly into the Americana category, most vividly evoking the seminal folk-country rock of Buffalo Springfield and early Poco, close listening reveals just how refined a blend of specialized skills this album is. Combined virtues of songwriting, musicianship and production complement each other to turn the ten tracks into a unified whole.
The talents of the principals are as broad as the music is eclectic. Guitarist/vocalist/composer McCallum himself has collaborated with the disparate likes of archetypal singer-songwriter Jackson Browne and power popster Matthew Sweet. Grammy-winning producer, mixer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Greg Wells has lent his talents to the work of Adele, John Legend, Taylor Swift. And Bow Thayer is a creatively-daring, staunchly independent vocalist/musician/songwriter who co-authored (with McCallum) all the original material comprising this record.
This Vermont-based artist also supplies vocals here on "No Trouble in the Bubble." A song of such honest good cheer and picturesque imagery (delineated in its lyrics printed inside the enclosed eight-page booklet), it may not be readily apparent how it refers to the gestation of this project. Between April and December 2020, McCallum, Wells and Thayer worked together, albeit remotely, from 'their respective hunkers on opposite ends of the country,' (their words as they appear on the inside of the digi-pak). Yet the bond the trio created is both palpable and purposeful, so much so that the space between the three becomes negligible.
On "Reverence-Al Green Dream," for instance, it's almost possible to envision these men in close proximity as they play and sing, nodding to each other to first anticipate the chord changes and turns in the arrangement, then again to tacitly congratulate each other on the fluent transitions of same. On "Open and Endless" or "Seeing Tears," McCallum, Thayer and Wells' unity sounds virtually effortless. Still, it is also a supremely careful connection too, without sounding inordinately so: there's a not a whit of DIY amateurism on display during, for instance, "Seeing Trails."
Just as importantly, the threesome manages to maintain the spontaneity of their interactions, both in the moment of singing and playing as well as in the necessary reflection for Wells' mixing plus his final co-production with McCallum. Eric Boulanger's mastering preserves the honest, human feel captured in the recordings. Unfortunately though, the artfully-distanced, personal expression of the "How Does This Thing End" is in contrast to the over-obvious and borderline precious likes of "Funky New Thang" and "Brush Strokes (Getting Good At Growing Old)." Similarly, "Simple Isn't Easy, Easy Isn't Simple" is too clever by half.
Yet those lyrics appear in the context of seamless vocal harmonies and a lush mix of guitars, underscored with the vigorous kick of drums, so the combination of those elements renders moot the relatively minor verbal faux pas. The overall lack of pretension on Beau Bow de Lune, in fact, may be this album's greatest virtue: the intimacy-by-proxy in which it was created wouldn't allow for fakery or self-consciousness, of course, but it's clear the principals were being honest with each other throughout, even as they managed to maintain a healthy distance in more ways than one,
Almost automatically piquing curiosity based on its cryptic title and front cover image ("Mann Auf Dem Seil" by Clint Buchholz), this LP turns compelling with knowledge of its concept and, in turn, how repeated close perusal of its approximately forty minutes duration confirms the work to be as durable as it is accessible.
Reverence – Al Green Dream; Simple Isn't Easy, Easy Isn't Simple; Open and Endless; Escape Back to Babe's Bar; No Trouble in the Bubble; Funky New Thang; Seeing Trails; Brush Strokes (Getting Good At Growing Old); How Does This Thing End; Are You Aware (That You Are Aware).