CD Review by Tracey Hammell
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.”
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.