So here’s another album by actor Hugh Laurie, known for his roles on House and Fry and Laurie, this album was released on 6th May 2013. Like his previous album there are blues songs, but he also explores other American musical styles such as Jazz, R&B and tango as well.
‘The St. Louis Blues’ is a cover of a popular American song by W. C. Handy and is considered by many to be a fundamental part of a Jazz musician’s repertoire and as such I can see why Laurie picked it for his second album. From the intro it’s rich in what I can only describe as that American feel, the guitars remind me of an old spaghetti western, Laurie then puts a distinctly tango feel to the melody, if you listen to an older more traditional recording for example Louis Armstrong’s version then you hear the bones of the original song in this but Laurie blends it together with something else in a wonderful musical fusion that reminds me why covers exist in the first place. I think this is the perfect first track to introduce Laurie’s album exploring the sounds of America. All throughout the 4 minute and 22 second track its changes in a fantastically organic melding of melodies. Hugh Laurie and his guest singer also add a lot to this track, their voices used sparingly but used well.
‘Junkers Blues’ is cover of an American Blues song first recorded by James Waynes in 1951. I made sure to mention in the review of his previous album that I think Laurie is a decent singer but he’s by no means the best, but I think his vocal range and style are perfect suited to this track, it just works with his voice. His harmonies with the guest singer are great as well, they don’t overpower each other, instead they just create an enjoyable musical milieu that improves the whole song.
‘Kiss of Fire’ also known as El Choclo or ‘The Corn Cob’ is a popular song by Argentinian musician Angel Villoldo. In this song Laurie explores Tango music. This track opens with latin inspired chords and instruments and a powerful female voice singing in Spanish. The song is really good, both singers swapping in and out, Hugh Laurie taking over and singing in English, his particular voice also suits this type of music perfectly. As with before we have a root genre, in this case it’s tango music but there are overtones of other music, and it serves to create something really unique. The female singer Joins Laurie in speaking in English right at the end, and again they work really well together.
‘Vicksburg Blues’ is a cover of a track by Little Brother Montgomery a prominent Blue pianist and singer. The beat and rhythm of this track are great, upbeat but in a whole different way from the previous track. Laurie is Joined by singer Taj Mahal on this track, and Mahal knows just how to sing this track, you listen to it and think, yeah this is how it’s supposed to sound.
‘The Weed Smoker’s Dream’ is a cover of a blue/jazz influenced pop song by Joseph “Kansas Joe” McCoy in 1936. This track is much slower, but in a sultry fashion rather than morose or melancholy, it puts in your mind a club singer, with a cigarette in her mouth and martini in hand belting out the song to a load of men in hats. Well it does for me. But even if it doesn’t provide such a vivid mental picture to everyone there’s no deny it captures the time period it’s from really well. I think this is one of my personal favourites of the album so far.
‘Wild Honey’ Picks up massively from the last track, Laurie again showing how good his voice can be, and how he knows how to work well with these types of songs. I liked this song alot, it’s the epitome of swinging, and certainly isn’t clean. Everything about it suggests sex, from the intensity to the singing and I think it’s brilliant.
‘Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair’ is a cover of a 1920’s blues song made famous by Bessie Smith. The original track was banned from the BBC for being all about murder and capital punishment. Laurie’s cover which utilises an incredibly talented female vocalist and kicks things up, far more than the original, she brings a sassiness and directness to the song without it seeming silly. I think this is another favourite on the album.
‘Evenin’ opens strongly with piano and guitars which are joined by Hugh Laurie, he really does have the American twang down, but I guess he should have after playing Dr, House for so long. I liked this track, I think that the band especially should get kudos for this, because the instrumental sections are phenomenal but then again that’s long awaited praise because they’ve been top notch throughout this entire album so far.
‘Didn’t It Rain’ is a cover of a popular gospel song which has its roots as an African American slave song/work song. Is probably my favourite on the entire album. It draw heavily on the gospel feel of the original song but throws in a little blues and a little of something else to really change it up. I love horns and this song has plenty, I love gospel piano and it has that as well. It a tightly packed song but having a lot going on just means there’s a lot of appreciate.
‘Careless Love’ is a cover of a traditional folk song, which has obscure origins. Hugh Laurie’s voice in this one again is amazing, he knows just what notes to hit and it’s accompanied perfectly by the piano. ‘Careless Love’ has that fill the room kind of presence that would make it amazing to hear live, and I hope that if/when Laurie releases a third album (and there are rumours) he does classics like this on tour alongside his new tracks. We are treated to a little bit of harmonica around the halfway mark which really hits home the whole American music vibe this album has, plus I also love harmonicas as well.
‘One for My Baby’ is a cover of a song written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer for the movie musical ‘The Sky’s the Limit’ and was first performed in the film by Fred Astaire. ‘One for My Baby’ is just classic, the piano, his voice everything about this track just has that timeless quality.
‘I Hate a Man Like You’ is different to the other tracks on the album, but I suppose its good to change things right at the end. Now don’t get me wrong it’s a really good track, the female guest vocalist knows her stuff and delivers the lyrics with the right level of passion and bitterness that they require.
‘Changes’ is the final track on the album (if you aren’t including the special bonus tracks) and it hold up the superb quality of the rest of the album. I love Laurie’s voice in this track especially, and I like how it picks up around the two minute mark, it gets bouncier after a relatively subdued intro, it has all the build up and energy a closing track should have. All I can say is that one thing I won’t be doing any time soon is…changing…the song. And with that terrible attempt at a joke I’m done.
First Published on: https://offtherecordblog.org