Sunny 1960s-influenced pop band Beulah released four albums in the late 1990s and early 2000s, winning over fans and critics with their catchy melodies and substantial lyrics. After nearly a decade together, the band decided to part ways in 2004, after a final tour in support of the album Yoko, their most critically-acclaimed release to date.
Beulah's Bill Evans and Miles Kurosky met while working in a mailroom in San Francisco's financial district. Initially the two disliked each other, but discovered that they shared a love of sixties pop music. Months after leaving their mailroom jobs, the two were able to put their dislike of each other aside and form a recording duo, eventually called Beulah. Kurosky decided his goal was to write, record, and release an album. His old foe Evans owned a four-track recording machine, and the two began recording on cassette, using only drums and guitar. Offices, bathrooms, apartment hallways, anything that had walls, became a recording studio.
The pair formed Beulah and recorded a song each month, recording the tracks on cassette. They ended up producing a seven-inch single titled "A Small Cattle Drive in a Snowstorm." After a year, one of their homemade tapes ended up in the hands of Robert Schneider, Apples in Stereo front man and Elephant 6 label mastermind. Impressed with what he heard, Schneider invited the two to join Elephant 6, a collective of musicians who specialized in performing homemade psychedelic sixties style pop. Schnieder mastered Beulah's first full-length album, Handsome Western States, which was released in 1997.
Beulah began getting attention as the new guys on the indie block. Faced with an upcoming tour, Evans and Kurosky decided that they needed to form an actual band. After a search, they were successful in bringing together drummer Steve St. Cin, keyboard player Pat Noel, bassist Steve LaFollette, and trumpet player Bill Swan. To the amazement of everyone involved, Beulah was now a band. After playing some local shows in San Francisco, they earned their first shot at the big time with tours supporting the Apples in Stereo, Of Montreal, and Ladybug Transistor.
The earnings from these tours allowed Beulah to begin work on a new album, 1999's When Your Heartstrings Break. The album was a major step up for the band, and they soon added strings and horns to their sound. As Kurosky put it on the Shifty Disco website, the group moved "from low-fi to mid-fi." Although the sounds were created in the group's tiny practice space, they retained their crispness and clarity. More tours and attention followed the group after the album's release. Lineup changes followed as the tour wound down, when Bill Evans joined the group on keyboards and Screeching Weasel drummer Danny Sullivan replaced Steve St. Cin.
Work began on a third album. Kurosky recorded four-track demos of the songs, which he distributed to each of his five band members. Each member worked on the songs independently and sent the results back to Kurosky. "It was interesting to hear what each person did without being influenced by one another," said Kurosky on the Shifty Disco website. He added, "Bill might have heard it as a soul song and Pat might have heard it as a country song—and I might happen to like both parts, and use them both." The end result of this unique collaboration was the album The Coast is Never Clear, released on Velocette in 2001.
The band was now backed by a cast of 18 outside musicians, playing strings, accordion, horns, organ and other instruments. Reviewer Brian Raftery of Entertainment Weekly praised the album, noting that "rarely has such a meticulously constructed album sounded so effortless." Unlike many other Elephant 6 bands, Beulah continued to grow and prosper. After the release of the album, Bill Evans and Steve LaFollette left Beulah, while keyboardist Pat Abernathy and bassist Eli Crews filled their slots.
The two years until Beulah's next album proved difficult for the band. Three members of the group were divorced within months of each other, and Kurosky and his longtime girlfriend parted. The stress of these events nearly broke up the band, but they emerged in 2003 with their most acclaimed album to date, the well-titled Yoko. The band's approach for this album was to record all the songs live together in one room, rather than employing the usual overdubs and heavy production gimmicks. In a press release for Yoko, Kurosky commented on the new style of the album. "You get to that point where you're like, 'Well, what do we do now?' Do we keep making the same record? Is that worthwhile? I was sick of reading 'sugar-y this' and 'sunshine that.' I like the Beach Boys and all that, but I don't want to be seen as this lite pop band. I've never thought of us like that."
Yoko represented a changing, more mature pop sound for Beulah. Fans and critics alike hailed the album as a positive change. As their fans were growing, so was Beulah. On the Pitchfork website, critic William Morris said of Yoko, "At its heart, this record is a statement of regret with a bleak view of redemption, but its grand tone hints at something more universal, and opens up an endless landscape of possibility."
For the Record …
Members include Patrick Abernathy , keyboards; Eli Crews , bass guitar; Bill Evans , drums; Miles Kurosky , guitar, vocals; Steve LaFol lette (left group, 2002), bass; Anne Mellinger (left group, 2000); Patrick Noel (left group, 2002), key boards; Anna Pitchon (left group, 2000), french horn; Steve St. Cin (left group, 2002), drums; Danny Sul livan , drums; Bill Swan , guitar, trumpet.
Group formed in San Francisco, CA, 1994; released first album, Handsome Western States, Elephant 6 label, 1997; released When Your Heartstrings Break, Sugar Free, 1999; released The Coast is Never Clear, 2001; released Yoko on Velocette, 2003.
Handsome Western States, Elephant 6, 1997.
When Your Heartstrings Break, Sugar Free, 1999.
The Coast is Never Clear, Velocette, 2001.
Yoko, Velocette, 2003.
Entertainment Weekly, Fall 1999.
Ink Blot, Fall 1999.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, November 14, 2003.
"Beulah," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 20, 2004).
Beulah Official Website, http://www.beulahmania.com (February 19, 2004).
"Beulah: The Coast is Never Clear, " Shifty Disco, http://www.shiftydisco.co.uk/m/?beulah/biog (February 18, 2004).
"Beulah: Yoko, " Pitchfork, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/record-reviews/b/beulah/yoko.shtml (March 2, 2004).
"Review: The Coast is Never Clear, " Splendid E-Zine, http://www.splendidezine.com/reviews/sep-3-01/beulah.html (February 20, 2004).
The first television network series to star an African American, Beulah ran on ABC from October 3, 1950 until September 22, 1953. The comic black maid had her beginnings on the 1940s radio series Fibber McGee and Molly where she was originally played by a white male actor. The African American Oscar winner, Hattie McDaniel, took over the role when Beulah was spun off onto her own radio show. The popular series then moved to the fledgling television medium with a new black actress playing Beulah, the noted singer, stage, and screen performer Ethel Waters. Waters left the series after two years and was briefly replaced by McDaniel. Illness forced her to leave the series, and another black actress famous for playing maids, Louise Beavers, took the role in the show's last season. The series followed the gently comic adventures of Beulah, her marriage-resistant male friend, Bill, the Henderson family whom Beulah served, and Beulah's feather-brained friend, also a black maid, Oriole (played first by Butterfly McQueen, then Ruby Dandridge). Debuting a year before the more famous black comedy Amos 'n' Andy, Beulah did not generate the other series' enormous controversy, despite the stereotyped representations of black servants whose lives revolve around their white superiors. In 1951, however, when the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) launched a highly publicized protest against the Amos 'n' Andy television show, the civil rights lobby group included Beulah in its condemnation. The series left the air the same time as Amos 'n' Andy.
In Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, the Land of Beulah is a pleasant and fertile country beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and within sight of the Heavenly City; the name may thus be used for heaven itself.
In William Blake's writing, Beulah stands for a state of light, which is symbolized by the moon.