Album review: Let Them Talk/Hugh Laurie

Posted: January 9, 2012 in Album review: roots
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Unbridled ego, unchecked and pandered to, can produce dire results. Famous actors’ musical vanity projects are, almost without exception, testament to this. Russell Crowe’s lumpen pub rock and Keanu Reeves’ hamfisted hardcore come to mind.

Which is what makes Hugh Laurie’s – yes, that’s right, the guy from TV’s House – new blues album, Let Them Talk, all the more of a delightful surprise. Producer Joe Henry (Solomon Burke, Ani DiFranco, Elvis Costello) – always a sympathetic and bighearted musical architect – has pulled something out of Laurie that is egoless and joyous.

There is moment on his cover of Stephen Foster’s ‘Swanee River’ that says it all – after a mournful minor key intro, Hugh Laurie starts up a rolling boogie piano vamp reminiscent of his hero, Professor Longhair, which he lights up with a whooped laugh of such unbridled joy that you just know he is tight with this music. This is not an actor’s character laugh, this is a whoop from the heart of a musician.

Let Them Talk is a loving tribute to the music that New Orleans is best known for – blues, jazz and bar room funk. Laurie and Henry have picked some absolute beauties here, ranging from the obscure to the standard. The album is weighted almost equally between a night time after-hours ambience (‘Buddy Bolden’s Blues’) and a rollicking street parade strut (Leadbelly’s ‘You Don’t Know my Mind’) – much like the notion of New Orleans itself.

Laurie is lucky (or is it a fringe benefit of fame?) to have some NOLA (New Orleans Louisiana) heavyweights helping out. Soul queen Irma Thomas (this reviewer’s hit pick of the recent Byron Bay Bluesfest) sings ‘Joe Henry’ and Dr John winks and sleazes his way through Fats Waller’s ‘After You’ve Gone’. Truly legendary New Orleans polymath Allen Toussaint provides beautifully greasy horn arrangements (check ‘em out on ‘Tipitina’) – you can almost see them played by a group of guys struttin’ down the street rather than session men sitting in plastic studio chairs.

Hugh Laurie is a brave man. In the past he has matched wits with Stephen Fry, and on Let Them Talk he matches his singing voice with (Sir) Tom Jones (on ‘Baby Please Make a Change’) and Irma Thomas – no doubt two of the great voices of postwar music. Laurie’s own voice is not great but – like Keith Richards and even Bob Dylan – if it is done with passion, style and true love for the artform, it hits the mark.

Laurie says of Let Them Talk : “I love this music, as authentically as I know how, and I want you to love it too. And if you get a thousandth of the pleasure from it that I’ve had, we’re all ahead of the game.”

Who could not get pleasure from this steaming hot, hot gumbo of an album? Dig in.

Published May 2011 on http://www.liveguide.com.au/

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