A pretty voice and lots of piano don’t seem like a natural combination for blues-inspired rock and roll but The Claudettes rock hard using both on High Times in the Dark.
The voice, courtesy of Berit Ulseth and the piano, from Johnny Iguana, are the center of the album, joining forces across 11 songs that merge, 50s rock, disco, classical, and pop. This is mostly accomplished through Iguana’s keyboard work, which deftly slips in and out of genres, often before you have time to process what he’s doing. Mostly because you’re distracted by Ulseth’s voice which is breathy and flirty, but also intimidating.
“I Don’t Do That Stuff Anymore” is a lovely duet between Ulseth and guitarist/bassist Zach Verdoorn, who has a sweet, soulful voice. Iguana takes a back seat here, giving the two singers plenty of space to shine, and the energy change from the shift to a ballad is refreshing. Not because you get tired of the relentless rock of High Times, but more that it’s impressive to see the band thriving in a completely different sphere with a track that, in another era, might have been a prom-swaying radio hit.
“The Sun Will Fool You” similarly changes things up, a different kind of duet taking place between Iguana’s piano and Ulseth’s emotive vocals. Iguana also lays back here, mostly focusing on supporting Ulseth, but his playing, even when straight-forward, is still evocative.
Which isn’t to take anything away from the faster songs, which are all a great time. “I Swear to God, I Will” is the aforementioned disco tune, Iguana’s lilting piano lulling you into thinking you’re about to be hit with a ballad before kicking into a funk groove, with Iguana playing jazzy runs over the new beat, almost defiantly sticking to his guns. “24/5” has classical piano cascades, a killer guitar riff, with a nice amount of dirt on it, and a fun set of lyrics dealing with the importance of space in a relationship: “24/7’s a joke, I offer 24/5.”
Iguana wrote all of the album’s songs, and it’s an impressively strong set of music. Starting with quality tunes and a solid singer is always a good first step for an album, but Verdoorn’s bass and guitar and Michael Caskey’s drums provides a sturdy foundation that allows Iguana’s keyboard work to take off into the stratosphere, where, more often than not, it’s joined by Ulseth’s voice. The Claudettes are doing something different worth hearing.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– I Swear to God, I Will
– I Don’t Do That Stuff Anymore
– The Sun Will Fool You
– Bad Babe, Losin’ Touch
The Big Hit
– Bad Babe, Losin’ Touch
Review by Steven Ovadia