I wrote this review on a lazy Sunday afternoon in Connecticut. The sky was grey and brooding. It was cool and cold would soon follow. I retreated from the once sunny lairs of my backyard man cave to the warmer environs of my basement lair. It’s a good day to listen to new music as I sip on a cup of hot chocolate. And the day got better and better as I listened to the new recording on Forty Below Records by The Claudettes.
The Claudettes are a Chicago based band that defies easy music genre classification. Fronted by the willowy voice of Berit Ulseth and powered by the blues piano of Johnny Iguana, this musical quartet with Zach Verdoorn on bass/guitars and Michael Caskey on drums deliver music that is both nostalgic and contemporary….no mean feat! The closest that I can come in terms of classification is that they reside in the Amy Winehouse wing of the blues and jazz with keyboard playing that is some of the best that I have heard since Billy Joel’s Piano Man recording a generation ago.
High Times In The Dark is an excellent recording that is brooding at times without getting morose. Yet it also brims with enthusiasm and thoughtful and witty observations about our lives. My favorite cut is I DON’T DO THAT STUFF ANYMORE. The song is a duet of Berit and Zach about leaving behind your youthful wildness and settling into the safer decor of maturity while realizing there is a price to be paid in terms of passion and excitement.
I also enjoyed 24/5 that reflects the reality that 24/7 love can become oppressive and leaves you with little to no private time. I SWEAR TO GOD, I WILL is a perfect synergy of Berit’s voice and the insistent and rhythmic piano playing by Johnny. DECLINED, MOST ACCIDENTS HAPPEN, and ONE SPECIAL BOTTLE are also some of my favorites on the recording.
YOU DRUMMERS KEEP BREAKING MY HEART is a great song with an interesting twist. Though sung by Berit as a romantic lament, it is actually an autobiographical tune written by Johnny about the lives of drummers that have been in his band over the years.
There are bands that very comfortable within the established genres of music….The Claudettes aren’t one of them. Their music harkens back to the jazzy cabaret blues of the 1960’s and yet has a lyrical and upbeat edginess that I believe contemporary audiences enjoy. It is my understanding that they put on one helluva live performance. It is just a dang shame that this album was released just as the pandemic of 2020 set in and prevented them from touring to support it. Once a vaccine is widely available in early 2021, I hope all of us will get a chance to see this creative group of music artists performing at a nearby venue! They can’t get here soon enough!!!!
High Times In the Dark – Forty Below Records (2020)
Ben Vee is an internet DJ and writer from New Orleans that now lives in Connecticut with his wife Annette. He started spinning records back in the 1970’s and has been writing about the roadhouse blues since 2011. He does two roadhouse blues shows each week on http://www.bluesmusicfan.com and he writes about the blues when the urge strikes on http://www.benveeblues.com.