‘Let Them Talk’ was released May 9th 2011 made up of classic blues tracks, and is the debut album by actor and musician Hugh Laurie. He has said that one of the reasons behind this album is his love of the music of New Orleans, and he was even able to play his album in venues across the city. As well as singing, Laurie also plays piano and guitar on the album. He collaborates on some songs with well know artists like Tom Jones, Irma Thomas and Dr. John.
‘St. James Infirmary’ opens with a solemn little piano number that’s not just technically perfect but phenomenal as well. Listening to it sent shivers down my spine, because just with Laurie’s magnificent piano work he’s evoked all these emotions and as of the two minute mark he hasn’t even sung yet. At about the halfway mark the song changes, it speeds up and becomes more swinging and certainly more of that New Orleans feel that I was expecting, then he started to sing, now I won’t lie to you and say that Hugh Laurie is the greatest singer to ever grace a microphone but he is a good singer and he’s certainly a master of the style and genre and knows exactly when to give a song that oomph it needs to really get going. I should mention that this track is a cover of a notable American folk song of unknown origin.
‘You Don’t Know My Mind’ is far more upbeat to start off that the previous track, not that it’s a happy song, it’s a very down in the dumps track, its fighting against being put in a little box, as Laurie says ‘You Don’t Know My Mind’ but the rhythm, Laurie’s singing all give this song a lot of power, it doesn’t just capture the blues vibe that I’ve gathered Laurie was going for with this album, this song would work very well as a country and western song as well. Usually when reviewing a track I’ll listen to the tracks a few times to get a grip on the song but while I wouldn’t say it’s the best on the album I kept coming back to this track because something about it just works really well.
‘Six Cold Feet’ Now this track is one of my favourites, simple percussion and acoustic guitar that fuse perfectly with Laurie’s voice to create a very impressive track. I especially loved the sections with horns, there’s something about a saxophone always brings out the best in a song like this. The chorus of this track in particular is just excellent, I’ve so far avoided ever using the phrase in reviews but sometimes to friends I’ll describe something as ear chocolate, basically that means anything like Morgan Freeman’s voice that’s just a pleasure to listen to and in this case I think this track is like ear chocolate.
‘Buddy Bolden’s Blues’ opens with another lovely piano number, sharper than St. James Infirmary though, and we don’t have to wait long for Laurie to join in this time, like all of the tracks so far this is a very particular style of music, a true homage to a genre of music that Laurie clearly understands and appreciates greatly. Anyone who thinks that this album and his follow up are just ego projects should just listen to this and they’ll soon shake that notion because while some people may have bought his album because he’s famous or whatever if they take the time to listen to it then they’ll get a well polished album full of great tracks.
‘Battle of Jericho’ is a little different to what we’ve heard so far, it’s slow and almost folky, unless there’s a genuine show stopper on this album then I think this one is my favourite, there’s just something about it that captures a mood and style perfectly, it doesn’t feel like someone who spent some time in New Orleans and tried to recreate something he heard, its real and genuine and I think Laurie needs to be applauded for that. I should mention that the track itself is a cover of a well known song thought to have been created by African American slaves, and references the biblical story the ‘Battle of Jericho’
‘After You’ve Gone’ I mentioned my appreciation for horns in a previous track, this one kicks up with a perfect blending of horn and piano before Dr. John a guest singer kicks us off, I liked this track which like the previous track is a cover of a well known song by Marion Harris. I for one think that Laurie and Dr. John did the original justice.
‘Swanee River’ is a cover of a minstrel song, it’s also the state song of Florida, although in 2008 the words were reworded because certain aspects of the song were deemed distasteful in the modern climate. Laurie certainly gives this track a little something else, I listened to an original recording to compare and the differences were too numerous to mention, I think being honest I like Laurie’s rendition better. It has all the passion and energy you could want in a song, full of piano and strings, it’s the kind of song that would be amazing if performed live.
‘The Whale Has Swallowed Me’ an obviously reference to Jonah being swallowed by the whale, a tight little number, that’s isn’t slow or muted but does pace itself extraordinarily well. Its also quite a humorous song, it plays around alot which I like in a song, its not silly however but funny in the same way self deprecation is, and being British Laurie has that down to a science. Rather uncomplicated overall but it still earns a place high on my personal favourites for this album.
‘John Henry’ Another classic cover, this time of an African American Folk song, about the titular John Henry who was believed to have outpaced a steam powered hammer at putting holes in the ground for the construction of a railroad tunnel, only for him to have a heart attack. Laurie doesn’t tackle this track alone, accompanying him and providing her wonderful voice is singer Irma Thomas. This song is another powerful entry, I think that where Laurie truly succeeds is at the piano, but alongside Irma Thomas his voice is given new power and they both bring something great to this track.
‘Police Dog Blues’ I loved the title of this track before I even listened to the song itself but once I did I loved it, it’s simple but all the better for it, mostly guitars throughout and he’s on his own this time but like I’ve mentioned before Laurie knows how to sound right with these tracks and he doesn’t fail here. Much like ‘The Whale Has Swallowed Me’ this track makes good use of that self deprecating humour.
‘Tipitina’ is a cover of the signature song of New Orleans Blues singer Professor Longhair, Laurie kicks it off well, he manages the blend of style and energy that Longhair was known for quite well. I think this song balances up the album really well, on the face of it, its similar to what he’s been doing but I think this has a little more fire to it that the past few tracks and sets us up really well for the final few tracks on the album.
‘Winin’ Boy Blues’ If you want an example of Hugh Laurie’s vocal skill and range then this is probably the best example of the album, it’s clear and provides an excellent example of why this made it to number 2 on the UK charts when it was released and why you shouldn’t think that Hugh Laurie is just an actor.
‘They’re Red Hot’ shortest entry on the album by far at 1:10 but it’s still a good little entry that breaks up the bigger tracks if nothing else. Its also a cover of a track by blues musician Robert Johnson.
‘Baby, Please Make a Change’ this album sees Laurie joined by Mr ‘What’s new Pussycat’ himself, Tom Jones as well as Irma Jones, and they all work really well together to create a song with lots of energy that builds really well towards the end, and settles up perfectly for the final track on the album.
‘Let Them Talk’ is a cover of a song by Little Willie John an American rock ‘n’ rock and R&B singer and like all the covers on this album I think not only does he make it his own but he does justice to the original as well. Being the titular track on the album it had to be good or it kinda lets down the whole album and Laurie didn’t fail us, I’d made a point of saying that ‘Winin’ Boy Blues’ give us the clearest example of Laurie’s singing talents, this track is a close second, he really pulls it out at the end to give us one last wow in an album full of surprises and great tracks.
And that’s what I think about Hugh Laurie’s album ‘Let Them Talk’ and if you want to buy a copy then check it out on Itunes. If you want to have a listen before you buy then you can check it out on Spotify.
First Published on: https://offtherecordblog.org