A rich, Cambridge graduate releasing a blues album called Let Them Talk; it doesn’t seem right, does it? A genre of music based on having nothing or losing everything isn’t supposed to be played by someone who is the highest paid actor in US TV drama. Yet Hugh Laurie pulls it off. And if you don’t know who Hugh Laurie is then I suggest you go find out now. This collection of traditional blues music inspired by New Orleans is achieved with much grace and respect, and Laurie does this by not pretending he is something which he is not; this makes the album work.
Let Them Talk kicks off on a rather sombre but inherently bluesy note nonetheless with the very traditional ‘St James Infirmary’, about going to the hospital to find your girl is dead, originally made famous by Louis Armstrong. Laurie remains true to the original in this six-minute-plus opener but it is his voice which perhaps gives it that extra little sparkle. Given his very distinct voice, his singing will have the marmite effect and it is not for everyone. Nevertheless, he can sing and he manages to carry the emotion of the song in a genuine form.
A little more upbeat is the lead single from the album, ‘You Don’t Know My Mind’. This Leadbelly cover is perhaps one of the best on the album, with its percussive guitar and sparse drum beat really shining through, and pushes Laurie‘s vocals to the edge, which just manages to maintain. Laurie isn’t afraid to go back to the roots of blues and ragtime and his cover of the slave song ‘Battle of Jericho’ is an excellent rendition and an example of his taste and respect to the music which has shaped his life. The collaboration with life time hero Dr John on ‘After You’ve Gone’ gives an insight where Laurie‘s vocal influences come from.
‘Swanee River’ gives the album an upbeat break and highlights Laurie‘s talent as a pianist, descending after this into blues music for the purists, with tracks including the biblical ‘The Whale has Swallowed me’ and the enigmatic ‘John Henry’ – a man who features in numerous blues songs and ‘Tipitana’, a song about an old blues club in New Orleans.
Obviously, no blues homage album can be without a Robert Johnson cover and this comes with the toe-tapping ‘They’re Red Hot’, although it doesn’t quite capture Johnson’s excitement and frailty. And of course no blues album can be complete without Tom Jones…wait, did I read that right?! Yes the Welsh wizard himself puts in a shift at singing the blues on ‘Baby, Please Make a Change’ and does a fantastic effort. Finally, this epic fifteen-track album is rounded off with ‘Let Them Talk’.
In all, Let Them Talk is a solid effort from Laurie . It is clear that he cares about the music he is playing and his heart and soul has gone into making this album a great listen. Although it may begin to drag a little for those new to the blues, the variety and choice of tracks is well balanced.
So what if Laurie is earning $400,000 per episode of House, and so what if he went to Eton and graduated at Cambridge? Who cares when he can play the blues this good.