The Claudettes Show an Eclectic Range of Sound

by Paul Whyte

I’ve mentioned before that I try to stick to Twin Ports and Twin Cities music when I do these write ups, but every now and again a touring band will send a CD before they play up here. This is the case for the Chicago based group The Claudettes. The band has been playing in one form or another since 2011, but the current lineup delivers a wide variety of sounds ranging from jazz, blues, and alternative. The group itself is held down by the piano stylings of Johnny Iguana who has matched himself up with the percussion of Matt Torre, the guitar and vocals of Zach Verdoorn, and finally, topping things off, the vocal stylings of Berit Ulseth. 

Their latest release is a beautiful yet rather simplistic arrangement of some originals and covers. The seven song EP titled “Pull Closer to Me: Live in the Piano Room” was recorded with just a room mic and a vocal mic. The recording in itself in both intimate and powerful, something the band hopes to deliver on Saturday, April 1 at the Red Herring when they play with the local group Brothers Burn Mountain. The choice of covers includes the Ruby & The Romantics hit “Our Day Will Come,” and The Sundays’ “Here’s Where the Story Ends.” The final track is a mash up of Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them” met with Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” brings some interesting elements to the two familiar songs. The originals are also quite captivating in songwriting from lyrics to structure. 

While this album is quite laid back, pianist, songwriter and band leader, Johnny Iguana, says the band has a non-stop set that will span many genres and tempos. “In a one hour set, me might have more than 20 songs,” said Iguana. “It’s a high charged turbo set of instrumental and vocal songs…the purpose of the group was to go bananas on the piano and have as much fun as I could with it. It’s fun music to play, which I think is why it’s fun to watch and listen to as well.” 

Iguana picked up the piano at eight years old and went on to play in school bands. From there he went on to meet one of his personal heroes, Junior Wells, and had the chance to tour with him. Iguana went on to pursue a few projects and throughout the years worked with The Chicago Blues: A Living History, and The Muddy Waters 100 Band which has included Buddy Guy, Dereck Trucks, Ted Moe, and Johnny Winter. “Being a piano player in Chicago is a great place to be, there’s a lot of great things that can happen,” said Iguana. 

While Iguana has had a bit of a past playing with some well known musicians, in the last year he has focused on this current group, The Claudettes. Some exciting news for the group was being contacted by producer Mark Neill (Los Straightjackets and Black Keys) to work on a new album that will be coming out later in 2017, which is tentatively titled “The Claudettes Let My Home in Shambles.”  

The live EP that the group has put out can be found at yellowdogrecords.com/theclaudettes. Live performances, which include shows with a french speaking vocalist in France can be found on their website at theclaudettes.com. Overall, the music is smart and feeling from covers like “Here’s Where The Story Ends” to introspective originals like “November.” This group will keep the listener engaged and entertained. It’s really the range of sounds that they seem to master at every turn that makes them worth checking out. They’ll be at Red Herring on April 1, and their performance is no joke.

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