There's something comfortingly familiar about this album. It's like slipping on one of your old favourites -you know, like large band Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, or of course Donald Fagen, but with the contemporary feel of someone like Gary Moore around the time of his 'After Hours' album. What makes this recording special is that all the songs are original. They sound completely broken in, like they've put in the miles and years around smoky music circuits the world over. They feel like standards; dug out on vinyl from a milkcrate in an old shop in Chicago.
This is blues with soul, and I mean real soul. Heart.
Then there's the musicianship and production. This is a stellar cast of talent, Brendan St Ledger, John Postlethwaite and Kevin Howard make up the core band. The feel, familiarity and connection they have with each other is near seamless, and it really shows. Caroline Hammond and Sarah Calderwood provide gorgeously complex backing vocals, and Neil Wickham and Mal Wood ably demonstrate that brass can be both subtle and bold. Each of these musicians has a world-class resume anyone would be proud of, and it really shows. Overseeing the production (and laying down a deliciously grumbly solo in 'Too Much Rain') is Michael Fix, himself a musician and producer of no small water. I need to just quickly single out the mix here -it's one of the best I've heard in a long time. Quite often with bands of this style and size, instruments can get swallowed or vocals overwhelmed, but not here. Everything sounds wonderfully balanced, and listening through a pair of decent headphones is really glorious.
Craig's vocal delivery is subtle, present. The stories and journeys are there, told with a kind of clarity and feeling that only come when you're singing your own, personal songs. The guitar work is exquisite, toffee-toned and flawless, with as many spaces between the notes as the songs require. The temptation to fill breaks with blistering lead work must have been huge, but like the other musicians in the band, the degree of knowing just what is needed for each track seems instinctive, and therefore utterly appropriate. ‘Marking Time’ and the opening track, ‘Walking Away from these Blues’ are perfect examples of this.
This is a fantastic album, all the more special for being creating during the pressures and uncertainties of a lockdown. It just sits beautifully, and I guess the best example of how it makes you feel is on the final track, 'The Long Goodbye'; the slow fade out leaves you wanting more of the glorious guitar work -a lot like the end of the sublime Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac version of 'Need Your Love So Bad', where you're left desperately wanting to know what happens after the fade...
New Review from The Netherlands July 2021
Blues, Rock, Roots & Americana
Craig Claxton – Azure Blue
Format: CD / Label: Independent
Text: Peter Marinus
The career of singer-guitarist Craig Claxton from Australia has spanned more than 50 years and only now is he releasing his first solo album. That's not to say he's been sitting still in the past.
He was in bands such as the Atomic Boogie Band, Karma, Spellbound and the Electric Blue Chameleons, played with artists such as Robben Ford, Mick Hadley and Carol Lloyd and was busy with his guitar shop “Guitar Brothers”.
The blues plays a major role on his debut album alongside influences such as Robben Ford and Steely Dan.
For example, the Steely Dan sound is incorporated in the opener Walk Away From These Blues. A nice lazy, jazzy, blues shuffle with Craig's warm piercing guitar and the swinging piano of Brendan St. Ledger. No Sense is in the same style, maybe a little more blues.
Then it's plenty of time for the blues in the driving pumping blues rocker Let Myself Out with Craig's hard biting guitar and the soul organ of Brendan St. Ledger in the lead roles.
Too Much Rain is a relaxed blues mambo with Craig's twanging guitar at times. Good Intentions is sultry and funky and the rocker Wild Goose Chase has a Riot In Cell Block #9 like sound.
The sound of Ben Sidran emerges in the lazy blues jazz of Dingo and Marking Time is an intimate slow blues.
The Long Goodbye is the intimate heaving closing track of the album. A song in which the Steely Dan sound reappears.
It may have taken more than 50 years, but this album is well worth the long wait. An album with nice relaxed and at times spicy rocking blues.