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Brian Auger - Second Wind (as Oblivion Express) CD (album) cover


Brian Auger


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.57 | 29 ratings

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3 stars Upon hearing both of this talented band's 1971 US releases it was frustratingly hard to get a bead on what they wanted to be. Their groundbreaking, forceful debut had further opened the gates for "heavy" jazz rock/fusion to infiltrate the musical landscape but their pointless follow-up, "Another Land," was so milk toast and unremarkable that I can't even remember what it sounded like. I just recall being very, very disappointed and confused. (I eventually sold the LP to a used record dealer in Redondo Beach and that's something that, as a vinyl collector, I NEVER did so that should tell you volumes right there.) I was therefore understandably skittish about purchasing "Second Wind" until I heard some of it being played on FM radio and realized that Brian had steered himself and his cohorts back into what he does best. Plus, it must have become evident to them and their label that they weren't going to go very far without a better lead vocalist so the unknown Alex Ligertwood had been brought in to shore up that deficiency.

The group kicks things off with the very tight, contemporary rock sound of Ligertwood's "Truth" and it's our first exposure to his somewhat R&B-tinged vocal style. It's not all that impressive but definitely a step up from Auger's limited crooning. After Jim Mullen's pedestrian guitar lead Brian turns to the piano and performs a nifty ride. The song ends with a soulful chorus and it's obvious that this is a much better effort than their previous album by a country mile. "Don't Look Away" is a jazzy ditty based around a repeating chord pattern interrupted only by a cool transitional riff. Its shuffling beat is mesmerizing in its own way and it gives Auger another chance to dazzle you with his piano improvisations. On his first break he demonstrates what "tickling the ivories" means as he concentrates on the high end of the keyboard before spreading the notes out more on his second go-round.

Just about the time you start wondering "where's the big Hammond B3, Brian?" the up tempo, jazzy "Somebody Help Us" barges in with the organ in tow. It's a good tune and Auger presents us with one of his fastest, most ear-blistering Hammond solos ever but what keeps it from being a great cut is Alex's stubborn insistence on trying to sing as freakin' high as he possibly can. (Unfortunately it's a trend that will stain the rest of the album.) The next track, a fantastic rendition of Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance," is the best reason to own this recording. Ligertwood continues to be annoyingly screechy but even that can't defeat the intriguing allure of its unique melody line and the undeniable groove that drummer Robbie McIntosh and bassist Barry Dean lay down. (The band I was a member of in the 70s used this as our opening song for years because it always set a great tone for the evening and gave the sound engineer a chance to get his settings right. Audiences loved it, too.) Brian's organ solo is excellent and Jim provides his most tasteful and fluid guitar lead on the album. This song is addicting.

They wisely decided to rehash Auger's "Just You Just Me" (the original version appeared on the Trinity's "Befour" LP) and their updated treatment and arrangement serves the tune well. Alex behaves himself on the vocal, allowing you to enjoy the tight harmonies and Brian's return to the piano keys for the hot ride in the middle. "Second Wind" ends the album on a sour note, though. It starts with considerable promise as Auger's mighty Hammond delivers a majestic opening but once Alex starts singing it goes straight downhill fast. Someone should have stepped in and stopped this torture from the get-go but they didn't so we fans have to live with it. Mullen's guitar licks are weak, to boot, and even Brian's usual mastery of the organ can't save this stinker. At least they saved it for last.

While this record showed the band finding their bearings once again, it still isn't anything approaching a "must have" album by any means. I don't blame them for not trying to compete with the likes of The Mahavishnu Orchestra that snatched the "hard" jazz rock/fusion baton and ran like the wind with it because they would never have been up to that challenge. (Few would!) What they discovered for themselves was a calmer, more marketable stratum of that burgeoning genre and their subsequent efforts would show them to be comfortable in that niche. 3.4 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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