REVIEW: the Claudettes’ “High Times in the Dark” is Retro Vaudeville Exceptionally Well-Performed


As soon as I began to peruse the 11-track LP by this Chicago unit I heard a cross-bred style of the exciting classic masterful vaudeville-burlesque style of Deaf School with Bette Bright & some Squirrel Nut Zippers. With ”24/5” The Claudettes dip into the looney-exceptionally well-performed retro genre of the Dutch band Gruppo Sportivo from 1977 (“I Said No,” with Peter Calicher’s great piano — who still perform & record today).

But, I admit the rich vocals of Berit Ulseth is the real personality charm of the band. The enthusiastic Johnny Iguana piano adds colorful melodic lift & the dynamics of the production on their 5th LP – “High Times in the Dark” (Forty Below Records-Drops April 3) is filled with energy & enthusiasm.

Berit doesn’t have as distinctive a voice (yet) that will stick in your mind like Deaf School’s Bette Bright (“All Queued Up”), or punk’s Patti Smith (“People Have the Power”). But…that’s not to dismiss Berit.

The songs on The Claudettes’ LP are so well-arranged & constructed that Berit can’t possibly fail. Her voice is like one of the instruments in the band & it’s a dream-band for a vocalist.

“Creeper Weed,” is a potent rocker held steady by Michael Caskey’s drums & Zach Verdoorn‘s solid bass & guitar. Mindful as well of the showmanship heard on The Tubes (“Turn Me On”) with Fee Waybill.

I like the way Iguana’s piano was recorded – upfront, with clarity & supporting Ms. Ulseth masterfully. “Grandkids Wave Bye-Bye,” is a good track about contempt for the poor. I don’t hear much real blues-jazz or soul, but this music is firmly rooted in an old-fashioned retro genre (not novelty) — dancehall, vaudeville, & burlesque — only on steroids.

“One Special Bottle,” is exceptional & with no let-up “Declined,” continues with an attractive arrangement & vocals. Berit really asserts herself on each song as the LP goes deeper. Here she skates thru as a bonafide 50s sexy-type vocalist. The band just pours on with tight persistent proficiency. No weak tracks here.

The percussive heavy media fear-mongering tale “Most Accidents Happen,” is a brave rocker. It has an Elvis Costello curve.

The beauty of the rolling piano notes drive “You Drummers Keep Breaking My Heart,” with its superbly recorded vocals is a stunner. On this performance, the band runs a finger across the rim of excellence of the legendary band Renaissance with Annie Haslam or the earlier Jane Relf (“Island”). That’s a compliment. Iguana plays his piano as beautifully as John Hawken or the late John Tout (“Prologue”).

If I had to give stars – this LP gets 5.

This 11-track 38-minute LP with all songs by Brian Berkowitz was produced by Grammy-winner Ted Hutt (Old Crow Medicine Show) in Chicago. Available at the band’s website.

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