Blues piano-and-drum duo The Claudettes, named after the Illinois bar owner who formed the group as her house band, made quite a splash a couple years ago with the release of debut album “Infernal Piano Plot … Hatched!” The instrumental slab was a showcase for the key-pounding wizardry of Johnny Iguana and the frenetic drumming of Michael Caskey. For album No. 2, the terrific “No Hotel,” The Claudettes have tweaked their sonic formula with the addition of 24-year-old Nigerian-American singer/dancer Yana.
The 16-track platter is broken into three distinct parts. The first six cuts are instrumentals, culminating with “Yana Arrives (Theme).” The middle portion puts Yana front and center, delivering five songs sung in English and French. Then comes “Yana Departs (Theme)” and Iguana and Caskey close out the proceedings with another handful of first-rate instrumentals.
“Yana was a tenant in Claudette’s apartment building and Claudette thought she’d look good on our stage,’ Iguana says. “It felt to me like a Nico/Velvet Underground situation and Michael and I didn’t really want a model up there with us. But Yana turns out to be a fantastic dancer and even better singer, which I’m sure Claudette didn’t even realize. Yana is a Claudette now and she sounds so good on this album. People are gonna be talking about her.”
While I might have sprinkled the vocal tracks throughout the album rather than bunching them in the middle, you can’t argue with the results. Instrumentals “Big Easy Woman,” “Southbound Stroll,” “The Swinger” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” sizzle, and Yana mesmerizes at the microphone on “She’s So Imaginary,” “Laisse Tomber Les Filles” and “Ne T’en Vas Pas.” Good stuff. (Jeffrey Sisk)