Claire Martin - The Early Years Anthology - BBC Website

15 September 2008
BBC Website
Kathryn Shackleton

From Abbey Road to New York and from big hair to a short crop, this stonking (and very reasonably priced) 4-CD set covers 6 years of Claire Martin's stellar career from her first release in 1992.

"The Waiting Game" is an accomplished debut album, establishing Claire's trademark combination of top London-scene musicians playing a quirky mix of songs. From the start, she's got the confidence to make her own song the title track and to put a Joni Mitchell and the off the wall The Keys to Your Ferrari next to lesser-known standards and Broadway tunes. The Keys To Your Ferrari breaks the speed limit, with its inventive scat intro and wordless vocal solo.

The second album, "Devil May Care", includes 5 co-written originals and introduces a superb horn line-up. Claire arranges her songs around her band, rather than vice versa, and the result is a fast, snaking solo by Iain Ballamy on Can't Give Enough and a punchy rock-inflected interlude by Nigel Hitchcock over On Thin Ice. She melts hearts by singing Close Enough For Love as quiet as can be in a duet with Jim Mullen's guitar, and gets dynamics to die for out of the 50s song Save Your Love for Me.

Jim Mullen, Clark Tracey and Arnie Somogyi are the threads running through Claire's first three albums. Probably the best in this collection, "Old Boyfriends", has a perfect balance of tunes and tempos and huge variety in its arrangements. Mark Nightingale swings for England with a gutsy solo on When The Sun Comes Out. This is followed by Claire's almost-whispered Close As Pages In A Book and Steve Melling's edgy, percussive piano on Partners In Crime (by the guy who wrote The Pina Colada Song). A note-perfect bass-and-voice solo with Arnie on Moon Ray and a drum-voice duet with Clark on Out Of My Continental Mind keep the rhythm section and the listener happy, and the thrills of this album continue with Claire's self-portrait version of Tom Waits Old Boyfriends.

The last CD of the set is the high-kicking, heavy-swinging "Make This City Ours". It's now 1997 and Claire's voice is richer and more relaxed, but the pin stripes on the cover show that she means business! US producer Joel Siegel records it in the Big Apple and Gareth Williams (piano) and Gerard Presencer (trumpet) pop across the pond to join musicians from the New York jazz fraternity. Gareth Williams is bristling and inventive on Empty Bed then completely changes his musical personality for a flowing and consonant solo on Could This Be The One?. On Estate brushes flutter across drums and Claire's silken voice caresses the lyrics, while the standard No Moon At All races along with a blinding sax solo from Antonio Hart.

Claire Martin has never been more in demand, which may be why Linn chose to release her back catalogue now. Looking back, it's surprising to see how consistently superb she's been. Her voice may have become richer, but apart from that her hair has changed more than her music.

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