Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express
RCA (LSP 4703)
Rating: **** (Recommended)
Released May 1972 (US & UK)
A sameness runs through the cuts on this album, something that some fans might find boring and uneventful, but the sameness is actually one of the main reasons this set is so strong. While the band stretches out, they never go too far into show-off excesses or try too hard like Traffic at this time, or like on some of Auger’s other material. And this material is not boring like some of his sets. The instrumental bridges push almost into a jam sound as usual, but they flow forward in a groove that owes more to funk than progressive rock. While this band was lacking in the vocal department after losing Julie Driscoll, Ligertwood finally fills the void, with his voice fitting the sound quite well.
Most members assist with the writing, and with the contributions of new members Alex Ligertwood (vocals) and Jim Mullen (guitar), the set has a cohesive sound. The sound clearly owes much to the past, with influences perhaps coming from the Allman Brothers as well as San Francisco funk. Of course, it’s not gritty like those sources, and the sound looks forward as much as it looks back. It continues to fuse rock, jazz, and R&B, and is clearly from the early 70s, but it also foreshadows the direction many artists would take years later. It likely had an influence on many progressive-rock musicians, folks such as Steve Winwood and Peter Gabriel. The music doesn’t sound like Gabriel’s solo work, but it perhaps gave folks like Gabriel some alternative to just continuing in the stereotypical progressive-rock mode.
The album is likely more of a pleasant surprise for fans of early 70s R&B than fans of progressive rock.It’s not a funk album, but it’s closer to Oakland than most albums from Great Britain at this point, and it might have provided ideas and inspiration to funk groups such as the Average White Band from Scotland. It’s not bad for a group of white guys from England.
Considering it comes from 1972, it deserves a note in the books. It’s one of Auger’s more enjoyable albums.— winch