Azure du Jour, Shorty Sings The Blues

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

Jim Hall is staying in town for the foreseeable future. A few months ago he tried to escape, but something kept him around. He summed up the situation with one word, “legalities.”

Jim plays bass and writes tunes in the band Azure du Jour with Joe Lindzius on drums and Randy Anderson on lead guitar. Their new album, Shorty Sings The Blues, is a testament to the skill and penmanship that this local trio possess. They have released live CDs before, but this was the band’s first studio venture. Each song emphasizes some classic reference of music or philosophy, but Jim really stands out as quite the lyricist.

The first song, “Problem Tune”, has an easy going folk whislin’ introduction. When it gets going there is a blues overtone with jazzy brushes underneath from the drums. It’s cool, but with a Randy Neuman like folk quality to it. The Neuman style is Jim’s voice on this song, but on other tracks he sings in a lower register. “Problem” really had some lyrics that made you stop and think too. Sure all songs make you think, but with a recent drought of truly intelligent lyrics in music it was refreshing. He sings, “The answer to the problem is always a bigger problem.” That is a great statement, because he was referring to escalation in the war on terror in the previous verse. When I asked him about the song he said, “it’s about industrial society making life easier, but coming at someone else’s expense. Like the third world, Native Americans, animals..” Those are thoughts that we all know, but often forget. The way he presents it both musically and with the statements make them stand out. Many young bands just toss lyrics onto a piece of music, but could care less if the words dance with the music hand and hand. Azure are beyond dancing, they have the flow of artisan ballerinas gliding with a blues tap dancer in some magic speakeasy in the sky. It’s that good, if you like blues and songwriting?

That is just the first song, “Here’s How You Talk To My Soul” is second and is written by Randy. It’s a take on the classic “Little Red Rooster”, but with original lyrics. I mentioned to Jim that this song struck me because I have a bootleg of Jim Morrison of the Doors and Jimi Hendrix on a stage in New York back in 1968 doing the same piece. He was curious as to what that would sound like, as was I when I purchased the bootleg. The sad thing was that Jim Morrison was so drunk that you couldn’t understand a thing he was singing, less a few verses of profanity. Needless to say it was a bit disappointing. Later Stevie Ray Vaughn covered the same tune, but Randy puts new lyrics to the song in a low singing voice. It is straight blues, and he tickles the strings as he plays the guitar. “I like the way you smile” was written by Joe and is classic New Orleans blues with a modern touch. Then Jim comes back with the catchy, “3 Legged Bullfrog”. This song is another gem but looser than his first. He sings about the effects of acid rain on a frog with, “Did you ever wake up with a 3 legged bullfrog on your mind. The more we try to save it, the more we enslave it.” Here we have another great thought on nature and preservation. Sure we can make National Parks and other areas to protect animals, but we end up enslaving them.

On “Strange Dream” Jim sings to an authentic Bo Diddley 1950s rock beat. Which basically is what all rock & roll comes from essentially. That beat is behind songs that were written by bands from the Beatles or Animals to Buddy Holly or any other early rock writer. “Probably Don’t Feel The Way I Do” feels like Azure got John Lee Hooker to do a track on the album. Like a fine wine sitting on the shelves of a Duluth bar it is no wonder Jim tried to leave town. The question is why hasn’t Azure been gobbled up by a label yet? Jim is not the whole band though, Joe wrote and sang “We Been Through To Much” and “Struggle With The Puzzle”. These songs take Azure’s album to a more modern type of sound. “We Been Through” is intimate with a bosa nova beat. It had a late 1970s sound, which in my mind reminds me of the era when Rock & Roll was dead. Then “Struggle With The Puzzle” plays and has this modern pop feeling of almost an 80s Stray Cat strut. The bass is smooth, and overall it’s probably the best song on the disc. Although my slightly youthful bias tries to find tunes on any album that might play on the radio. Where Jim’s songs slap you with intricate lyrics dancing with the music, Joe’s have a radio appeal that rounds out the band.

Azure is three guys who contribute to each song, and Randy gets his props for “I’m In Love With You” and “When Love Goes Wrong”. “I’m In Love” makes you wanna grab the girl next to you and swing her around, poodleskirt and all. “When Love Goes Wrong” has that signature train beat that has ridden the rails of rock, folk, blues, and jazz since the 1950s. It’s old blues though when Randy takes the song and paints a picture musically that feels very southern.

Azure is like many overachieving Northland bands that make this area rich with great artistic music. This trio takes one part jazz, one part blues, and one part folk to make a nice brew of authentic rock & roll. Take a sip and you won’t be disappointed by this potent shot of Duluth’s finest ale. Which will be served at the Nor Shor Thursday, August 5th, at Bev’ Jook Joint August 11th, and Grandma’s for the Bluesfest on the 12th and 13th of August.