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Sweet Claudette – Shaking Up The Bucket

B4Reel Records

9 tracks, 52:31

Sweet Claudette has been called Detroit’s Matriarch of the Blues. In 2010 she was nominated for a Detroit Black Music Award, and was included in the Alabama Women of the Blues showcase. Sweet Claudette was born in Heflin, Alabama but her family moved to the Motor City where she and her band regularly take to the stages with their blend of funky and smooth urban rhythm and blues and jazz. Sweet Claudette is back with her first album since 2009’s That Man’s Got To Go.

Shaking Up The Bucket kicks off with the funky wah-wah guitar groove of the title song. Described in the liner notes as a song that “pushes the seat huggers to get up and shake it loose,” it easily meets that goal. Every member of the extensive band gets a solo turn in this revue style showcase. This is a hot band with three guitar players, brass, woodwinds, and keyboards as melodic instruments while the thumping bass and drums drive the groove. This is a formidable band that probably energizes crowds at every stop.

Shaking Up The Bucket has some new tracks and a handful of favorites like “Sending You To Man School” and “Ain’t Gonna Wash Your Dirty Clothes” from her previous records that are currently unavailable. The former has a smooth jazz sound with Sweet Claudette’s sultry vocals layered on top. She has definitely had some bad times with men and isn’t shy about calling them on their bad behavior. The surprise element of “Sending You To Man School” is the flute solo by Deblon Jackson. Her solo is part John Coltrane and part B.B. King and completely fresh and revelatory. It is a masterstroke in an otherwise average song.

“Crying Over The Same Man” has some tough and terse guitar riffs and the guitar players blend styles expertly to create rich textures. The horn flourishes punctuate the riffs and Claudette’s savory delivery elevates the track to unexpected heights. This song includes one of her more clever lyrics, with the phrase “wife-in-law” drawing a wry smile. The red hot guitar solos are fierce and furious making this track the high-water mark of energy on the album.

The disc ends with an extended jam on Jaco Pastorius’ “The Chicken.” It may seem like an odd choice for a blues band, but makes perfect sense in conjunction with the jazzy blues and R&B on the rest of the disc. The horns and flute get much of the spotlight on this track and deservedly so. The horn arrangements on the entire album expertly straddle the fence between supporting and propelling the music. With the number of musicians playing on the disc, there is a distinct chance the music could have become cluttered and cacophonous which is not the case on this CD. Every member accents the others and as a bandleader, Sweet Claudette allows her musicians room to express themselves. They are a cohesive unit working toward a united goal of making the best possible music.

It has been said that Sweet Claudette is to lyrics what Thelonius Monk was to the piano, in the sense that her lyrics are eccentric or quirky. Monk’s piano playing was often disjointed, atonal, angular, and abrupt. Unfortunately, lyrics are often diminished when they have these qualities and many of the songs on the album suffer in this way. Word choices are odd, rhymes often seem forced, and in songs like “Been There Done That,” the lyrics are trite. “Ford Taurus SEL” is a song in support of the auto-workers of Detroit and it praises one of their products, but it’s also supposedly a driving song. The liner notes say “If you love yourself some red-hot wheels, with an airy sunroof and wind whipping in your face, this one is for you” - that description is not encapsulated in a Ford Taurus; SEL or otherwise.

Beyond the lyrical idiosyncrasies, Sweet Claudette displays fine command of her voice and her style adds character to the songs. The band is tight and all throughout the disc there is a sense that this music would truly come alive on the bandstand. Until you get out to see Sweet Claudette, you can shake up the bucket at home with her latest CD.

Reviewer  Jim Kanavy is the greatest guitar player in his house. He has been reviewing albums in his head for 30 years and in print since 2008, and is deeply committed to keeping the blues alive and thriving. For more information visit

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