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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...
Paul Brandon is an Award Winning Writer/ Musician born in Kent, England who now lives in Australia. In addition to writing, Paul is also a musician in the successful Celtic band Sunas and the Americana band RedCrow.
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.
New Review from Belgium September 2021
Blues, Rock, Roots & Americana
Craig Claxton – Azure Blue
Format: CD / Label: Independent
Text: Eric Schuurmans
Craig Claxton is an Australian born guitarist and singer/songwriter who has been involved with music for over 50 years. A lot happened in 1959, the year Craig was born in Brisbane. Gibson came on the market with the Les Paul Standard (Standard Burst), in the music world the first Grammy Music Awards were handed out in Los Angeles, there were The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Rolling Stones, Santana, Led Zeppelin, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Jethro Tull, Frank Zappa and many more. In his teens he discovered the blues of Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and Robert Johnson to name a few and later still through Miles Davis, Django Reinhardt, Weather Report, John McLaughlin and Mike Stern, Steve Khan, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour and Robben Ford the jazz. While studying at Griffith University from 1977 to 1980, Craig discovered the music of Steely Dan, among others.
Craig got his first guitar when he was 8 and never looked back. At the age of 12, he taught at the local guitar academy for music and played gigs in the city. Since 1972, Craig has performed with many Australian bands (such as Atomic Boogie Band, Karma, Spellbound and The Electric Blue Chameleons) and with his own band, The Barbarians. Craig is also a much sought after session musician and has played with artists such as Robben Ford, Mick Hadley and Carol Lloyd. In 2006 he opened the Guitar Brothers, Australia's premier guitar shop.
'Azure Blue' is only his first studio album and the songs that Craig Claxton recorded are his own. “Walk Away from These Blues,” the opener is a laid-back jazzy, blues shuffle starring Craig's stinging guitar and Brendan St. Ledger's swinging piano. “No Sense” what follows follows the same style, but is more bluesy. Craig then changes course with “Let Myself Out” and shakes us up with a driving and pumping blues rocker with biting guitar and the soul organ of Brendan St. Ledger. “Dingo” is a dreamy jazzy interlude and “Too Much Rain” is a relaxed blues mambo with Craig's twanging guitar at times. “Good Intentions” is brooding and funky and the intro to the rocker “Wild Goose Chase” actually has some of Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller's “Riot in Cell Block #9”. “Marking Time” is an intimate slow blues before the closing track “The Long Goodbye”.
It took over 50 years, but it was worth the long wait for Craig Claxton's debut album. 'Azure Blue' is an album with nice relaxed and at times spicy rocking, sometimes jazzy blues...“
(ESC for Rootstime)
Craig Claxton made excellent use of his time in lockdown during the shift into the “new normal” by writing and recording his first solo album, Azure Blue.
“It was so much fun to do ... I had a fabulous band ... I wrote all the songs except “Walk Away from These Blues”, which I co-wrote with Caroline Hammond. It was produced by Michael Fix and co-produced by Brendan St Ledger. At the end of the day, it sounds the way it does because of all the people who played on it. Different people hear different things in the songs ... which is cool. I’m not big on explaining what the songs mean or are about … to me it’s all the blues.”
— Craig Claxton
To that end, I’ll share the different things the album unveiled to me, as a listener.
Stare at the cover of Azure Blue for just a few seconds and you’ll suddenly forget whatever you were doing, as if strolling along that Moreton Bay jetty, thoughts mirrored in the horizon beyond.
This is a perfect start to the initial track “Walk Away from These Blues”, for if you close your eyes, you’ll find yourself time travelling beyond that jetty, across the miles into a New York or LA jazz and blues bar, with that nostalgic sound evoking the early Steely Dan era. This gently head nodding, foot tapping cool groove pulls you into the ambiguous perils that entrap the human heart, arriving at a fitting conclusion in “No Sense”. “Dingo” brings the vibe back home to Byron Bay with the smooth, glassy feel of the ocean and white sands themselves.
“Let Myself Out”, “Too Much Rain”, and “Wild Goose Chase” provide a generous helping of standard-style blues that satisfies your inner shuffle, while “Marking Time” serves up an intimate slow blues essential that lets the bell-like charm of a crying guitar illustrate the story.
“Good Intentions” takes a turn into big band territory with its bold brass hooks, and “The Long Goodbye” is introduced with a resonant acoustic guitar reminiscent of a sure-footed Southern blues-rock feel.
Overall, this eclectic assortment of contemporary blues-jazz tunes is immediately familiar, yet the more times you listen to it, the more there is to discover, revealing how fresh it really is with each stylistic nuance.
What stands out is a very swish layering of instruments and vocals, each crystal clear and distinct, yet complementary and balanced, with none overpowering the other. This is testament to the high quality production values evidenced in full. It is an album polished with sophistication and refinement that delivers a top-shelf experience.
Azure Blue will be officially released on May 14, 2021.
Tracey Hammell is an accomplished Singer-Songwriter/Guitarist and Writer of the Sound Moves You website. She has written reviews of most major music festivals on the East Coast of Australia and been Editor of the Blues Association of South East Queensland (BASEQ) magazine, "The Groove".
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