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Hugh Laurie - Let Then Talk

Warner Bros Records

15 songs; 58 mins 1 Sec

According to some sources, Hugh Laurie, for his role in House MD, is the highest paid actor on US television. In the show, every now and then – and always quite briefly - we see House playing either a keyboard of some kind or, occasionally, a guitar including a Gibson Flying V, a Martin 0-17, and various Les Pauls and Fenders. All of those instruments belong to Laurie, not to the studio. Laurie concedes (like many of us in the UK) that his life was changed for ever on first hearing blues music (he says it was Willie Dixon) and that he started to absorb all he could. Like many of us also in the UK, New Orleans became a Mecca – I cannot tell you how much of thrill it was for me to walk for the first time on Bourbon Street, Canal Street and points north, south, east and west!

Laurie has managed to enter the Promised Land. This CD, produced by Joe Henry puts Laurie in a band consisting of some of the cream of NOLA musicians including a horn section arranged and conducted by living legend Allen Toussaint. The band is magnificent and the arrangements, without exception, tight and beautifully recorded. The music ranges from an almost classical (in the Carnegie Hall sense) piano based overture, St James Infirmary, with some BIG orchestral sounds (plus some nice little slide dobro fills) to a cover of Blind Blake’s Police Dog Blues (Laurie on guitar here). Called in the twenty page book of notes, St James: An Infirmary In Two Parts, the second part of the opener is a stand-up bass driven (wonderful playing throughout the CD by David Pilch) vocal rendition of the old song with a magnificent horn accompaniment.

Laurie is joined by Irma Thomas taking the vocal lead on a rousing version of the old ballad, John Henry with some impassioned Memphis Slim style piano backing (by Laurie) and by Dr John (vocal) on After You’ve Gone a 1918 popular song, now a jazz classic. Tom Jones takes the vocal lead (and Irma Thomas the backing vocals) on Baby Please Make Change, a Mississippi Sheiks song from 1934. All three of these guest artist tracks add an interesting layer to Mr Laurie’s collage of music and musical styles. For styles there are; not just old blues re-visited but also a spiritual, Battle Of Jericho, some jazz tunes and a popular song, Swanee River, the latter given the boogie-woogie treatment sometimes delivered by Dr John or Henry Butler.

Other covers include the Williams, Gray and Liston song, You Don’t Know My Mind famously recorded by Lead Belly; Leroy Carr’s, Six Cold Feet; JB Lenoir’s The Whale Has Swallowed Me. The title track, Let Them Talk, is the Little Willie John crossover hit from 1959. There’s a trio of jazz faves, Buddy Bolden’s Blues, After You’ve Gone and Winin’ Boy Blues (with the Jellyroll Morton’s ‘clean’ lyrics from his Bluebird commercial recording. If you want the Jellyroll Morton cathouse original go to– Warning! Yer Mama won’t like it) and a tribute to Professor Longhair (Roy Bird) in the form of a swinging horn-section driven workout of Tipitina, with added dobro! There’s even a Robert Johnson track in the form of a shouty and blessedly short (1min 7 secs) version of They’re Red Hot, which seems to have been an afterthought (“Hugh did you realise this is the 100 year anniversary of RJ’s birth year?” Right, let’s do this one then.”)

Well, so far so good, great musicians, great arrangements, excellent choice of songs, thoughtful notes by Mr Laurie in the booklet (do you sense a ‘but’ coming? Well here it is) BUT, even after twenty listens, I remain uncomfortable with Laurie’s singing. I am happy to concede that this may just be me, but there is a strange timbre about the quality of the Laurie vocals. (Some have suggested it’s his underlying English accent, but I don’t accept that.) This qualitative anomaly is explained, in part, when you are aware of the veneration which Laurie accords Dr John; so much so that when the latter is singing After You’ve Gone, it sounds just like the former (or vice versa elsewhere). It may also be a deliberate mixing thing, as there is something in the timbre of the 1920s band singer using a megaphone. It may also be that some of the songs are pitched a tone or so high for Laurie’s vocal chords. Perhaps we’ll never know.

So, just in case people get the wrong idea, let me try and pull this together.

This CD will be massive. It will IMHO, win accolades and nominations by the bucket full. The music is filled with magic and importantly, that magic will touch people who as a general rule would bolt like a wild mustang from anything labelled BLUES. Some of them will come back for more, some of them will stay. Some of them will seek out the originals of Laurie’s chosen songs and will come to realise the breadth, depth and poetic beauty of the blues: For that alone, Laurie will deserve the glittering prizes. He can be justly proud of his child. .

Review Ian McKenzie lives in England. He is the editor of Blues In The South ( a monthly flier providing news, reviews, a gig guide and all kinds of other good stuff, for people living and going to gigs along the south coast of England. Ian is also a blues performer (see and has a web cast regular blues radio show on www.phonic.FM in Exeter (Wednesdays: 1pm Eastern/ 12 noon Central, 10am Pacific).

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