Brian Auger's Oblivion Express,
Voices of Other Times
(Miramar, 2000)

After achieving major success in Britain in the '60s, Brian Auger formed Oblivion Express and from 1971 to 1977 released a string of seven seminal jazz-rock albums plus two live albums that set a new standard for keyboard jazz with blues & rock leanings and a signature sound defined by the mixture of Hammond B-3 organ and electric piano. With various members and singers, these albums contained great original songs by Auger combined with well-chosen covers of jazz classics, and represented a career high water mark. In the '80s and '90s, Auger releases became sporadic and although his career never regained the momentum of the Oblivion Express period, his talent kept happily resurfacing.

In 2000, Oblivion Express was reborn with a new lineup and a new recording, Voices of Other Times, which features Brian with two of his children and two of their musician friends who together have crafted what may be the best Oblivion Express album yet. The trademark sound is not only intact, but sounds better than ever, thanks in part to fantastic production by drummer and son, Karma, and vocals by daughter Savannah. It's Oblivion Express -- the next generation.

The first track, "It Burns Me Up," starts with a funky Marcus Miller-style bass line that literally screams "hey -- this isn't the '70s anymore," together with Hammond organ, topical lyrics and overall amazing sound. Imagine the Express in its prime, only updated, fresh and current. There's a classic Auger organ solo, pumping bass and drums, and also some nice solo guitar. "Isola Natale" is a remake of a song from Brian's first album (Open from 1967 with Julie Driscoll and the Trinity) and features a Latin style rhythm with more nice guitar and bass work, all anchored by the Hammond organ which works tremendously well in combination with Savannah's voice; this sounds so current you'd never know it was written over three decades ago.

The title track is an update of the great song from the classic Oblivion Express album Closer To It (1973), with excellent vocal, band performance and arrangement, if anything exceeding the original. This song has a perfect combination of rhythm and organ with a superb melody, plus an organ solo to boot. This is all too cool; I just can't get over the fact that although the trademark sound is intact, almost 30 years on it sounds totally new.

Track four is the Marcus Miller composition "Splatch," which Auger says he first heard on Miles Davis' Tutu album. Bassist Dan Lutz also seems to have a high appreciation for Miller that is obvious from his playing. The song starts with another classic Miller bass line, then theHammond organ, then more nice guitar soloing and great drumming by Karma; the organ riffs sound positively exuberant.

"Indian Rope Man," written by Richie Havens, is another redo from the Auger catalogue; the original dates back to the Streetnoise album (1969), updated here with a great version. "Victor's Delight," is dedicated by Brian in the liner notes to pianist Victor Feldman "whose inspirational playing has left a lasting impression on me." "Circles," is a great sounding original, written by guitarist Chris Clermont with lyrics by Savannah. "Never Gonna Come Down" is another nice update of a classic tune from the Happiness Heartaches album, which was the last release from the original run of the Express in 1977. The four updates on this record sound so fresh and current next to the new material that you would never know they were old songs unless you were familiar with them (or looked them up). "Jam Side Down" closes the album with an instrumental workout composed by the band.

Every track on this disc gets such a great groove going that you won't want any of them to end. Whatever it takes, please seek out Voices of Other Times. Listeners unfamiliar with Auger or his history who pick up this disc are in for a huge treat, with the added bonus of being able to go back to those classic Oblivion Express albums from the '70s and discover them for the first time. Auger fans hearing this new disc for the first time will be both shocked and amazed that after all these years there is a new Oblivion Express that not only sounds right but is even better than before. It's like reconnecting with a long lost friend.

- Rambles
written by William Kates
published 9 August 2003

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