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Brian Auger - Streetnoise CD (album) cover


Brian Auger


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.18 | 45 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars As a young man finally breaking free from the cozy but stifling nest of mom and dad's house, striking out on my own in the bohemian college town of Denton, Texas in 1970, I was ever open and eager to experience music that would expand my safe horizons and dismantle my preconceptions. Having been intrigued upon hearing their head-turning version of "Light My Fire" on FM radio, I came across this double LP in the cutout bin in the NTSU student union building's campus store and grabbed it up (the stunning Ralph Steadman cover art was worth the price alone) without hesitation. It turned out to be the perfect soundtrack for that phase of my life and I nearly wore the grooves down through the vinyl. Almost four decades later the incredible performances captured on this album still have the power to shock and awe the progressive listener. What keeps this recording from being a bonafide "masterpiece" is the fact that it would have benefited greatly from some discreet editing and been pared down to a single disc. But this was released at the end of the "anything goes" sixties and restraint was not necessarily a virtue in those heady times.

"Tropic of Capricorn" is a very jazzy tune written by Brian "Auge" Auger that demonstrates right off the bat one of the main reasons to love this band. The Hammond organ. Brian is a monster and the fire he ignites every time he takes a ride is quite evident on this number. Clive "Toli" Thacker throws in a subtle but effective drum solo, as well. Yet nothing can prepare you for the dynamic entrance of vocalist Julie "Jools" Driscoll as her unique vocal stylizations rise impressively from her eclectic "Czechoslovakia," a strange mix of David "Lobs" Ambrose's acoustic guitar and Auger's organ that defines the term "eclectic." It's hard not to be affected by their creative and sometimes unnerving symbolic presentation of the strife and tragedies that country suffered in the summer of '68. Variety is the spice of life and their refreshing take on Nina Simone's "Take Me to the Water" appears like a spiritual oasis after the darkness of the previous cut. This gospel-tinged tune starts soulfully, then breaks into an all-out rave by the end with Jools raising the roof. Her brief "A Word About Color" is next and it's just her and an acoustic guitar but there's nothing laid-back or meek about her delivery. Ever.

As I mentioned earlier, their cover of The Doors' "Light My Fire" is what got me started on Auger's work and when you hear it you'll understand why. After hearing what Jose Feliciano had done to the song they decided to make it even jazzier and expressive and the result is nothing short of genius. Julie's erotic and near-orgasmic delivery takes your breath away as she makes the tune her own and Brian's sensuous organ lead is a treat, as well. This track is the highlight of the album and singularly worth the price of admission. Richie Havens' obscure "Indian Rope Man" is a hard-charging rocker that shows their more powerful side. Not only does Jools grab you by the collar with forceful words like "Indian rope man sees the times/splitting loose the edge of minds/catching losers in his line" but Auger's solo will tear your head off. If you haven't come to admire Driscoll's artistry by now, her stunning performance on "When I Was a Young Girl" has got to be the clincher. It's a haunting vocal and organ piece that slowly builds to an amazingly emotional crescendo and I guarantee you'll never forget Julie's gut-wrenching wails that take her voice flying into the highest registers imaginable. The more contemporary sound of "The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)" from the then-controversial musical "Hair" will make you forget The Fifth Dimension's sappy "Age of Aquarius" for all time to come.

Brian's "Ellis Island" (an instrumental inspired by Don Ellis) starts with a typical 60s-styled clavinet riff but then gets hotter than Hades as the tight rhythm section of Thacker and Ambrose glide underneath Auger's jet-fueled, screaming organ ride. If you are a fan of the Hammond sound then you can't afford to overlook this album. The low point arrives in the form of "In Search of the Sun," an amateurish ditty by Dave that only serves to retard the momentum. The liner notes inform us that it was his first attempt at songwriting and it sounds like it. Brian's funky "Finally Found You Out" is next and, while it was supposed to have vocals, time restrictions kept that from happening so they left it in as an instrumental. Good thing, too, because Auger's organ lead will curl your hair and, if you stand too close to the speakers, it might set your clothes ablaze. I'm not kidding. The following song, "Looking in the Eyes of the World" is another cut that should have been left in the can. Its timely anti-war message is admirable but the rambling meandering of Brian's toneless voice and somber piano musings turns this one into a tiresome dirge to be skipped.

The prog-folk leanings of Julie's "Vauxhall to Lambeth Bridge" is an intriguing adventure into uncharted territory where she and Ambrose weave a courageous free-form pattern using just expressive vocals and beautiful acoustic guitar. The group's cover of Miles Davis' "All Blues" is one of my favorite versions of that classic. Driscoll hypnotizes with her expert phrasing and Brian shows off his jazz piano skills. It's too cool for words. "I Got Life" (another song from "Hair") follows and it's a fantastic showcase for Jools' versatility as she paints the intricate but expressive lyrics all over the aural spectrum. You just gotta hear this lady sing! And there's no better way to end an album than with a Laura Nyro composition like "Save the Country." This heartfelt plea for peace and harmony is perfect for Jools' emotional voice as she soars like an eagle over the band's energetic groove.

I think you have to have a hankering for the unexpected to truly absorb and appreciate this music. If you're looking for a mix of jazz, rock, blues and folk that doesn't sound like any other group before or since then I feel certain that "Streetnoise" will be something you will enjoy. Some might find Julie Driscoll's vocals too stark and/or naked but few sing from the soul the way she does. (I daresay that the likes of the great Annie Lennox were undoubtedly inspired by her.) And NOBODY, including Emerson, Wakeman and Lord, had the ability to attack the Hammond keyboard with more intensity and blazing passion than Brian Auger. He proves it beyond any shadow of a doubt here. 4.2 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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