The title of this 1973 album refers to Brian Auger's decade long quest for a perfect fusion of psychedelic rock, soul, funk and jazz, which began as he worked his way around the rhythm 'n' blues clubs of London's swinging sixties. There are plenty of other great Oblivion Express recordings available out there but this, I think, is the most rounded and complete.
The Oblivion Express sound is built around Auger's phenomenal skills on the Hammond B3 organ and Fender Rhodes piano and the jazz-influenced vocals of Alex Ligertwood. You get the feeling that they are essentially an English psychedelic rock band who heard "Bitches Brew" by Miles Davis and never looked back (hence the title of my review!). The album opens spectacularly with "Whenever You're Ready", a stunning six and a half minute Hammond-driven psychedelic jazz-rock wig-out under-pinned by an unrelenting, samba-tempo percussion.
As the title suggests, "Happiness Is Just Around The Bend" is a much lighter, poppier affair - a bonafied pop song that was apparently a massive radio hit on the sunny west coast of America at the time (despite never being released as a single). It is easy to see why with its infectious, chugging rhythm and Fender Rhodes coda. The song was later covered and given more of a disco-soul sound by The Main Ingredient and then re-emerged ten years later as a slice of Arthur Baker-produced Eighties club soul boogie by Cuba Gooding Jr.
"Light On the Path" is another jazz-rock fusion, this time a funky five minute instrumental. This is followed by "Compared To What", which is a 1970s update on the funky Hammond sound popularised by the likes of Jimmy Smith and much emulated by Brian himself in his 1960s London r'n'b club days. The funked-up cover of Marvin Gaye's soulful and brooding "Inner City Blues" is another stand-out track and definitely one of the finest versions of this classic song - notable for the chiming piano intro and Brian's moody Hammond solo (note: there is an even funkier ten-minute live version of this song on the Live Oblivion 2 album, which also comes highly recommended by me!)
"Closer To It!" draws to a strong close with "Voices Of Other Times", another 'song' (i.e. rather than a 'wig-out') and probably the most light, soulful and mid-tempo sound on the entire album.
As I said earlier, I think this is probably Brian's finest and most complete studio album but the Trinity/Oblivion Express back catalogue is full of treasures well worth hunting down. The most amazing thing to me is that this sound is the imagination of an Englishman schooled in the beat clubs of 1960s London. In fact, Brian Auger's career - and this album in particular - is arguably the missing link between the original 1960s mod movement and the Acid Jazz scene of the 1990s.
I have half a dozen CDs by Brian Auger, this is my favourite ! First bought it when it came out many moons ago, its as fresh today as it was then! Straight forward organ music with acompanying bass and drums - no brass . Also enjoyable vocals here and there. Fully recommended !