Hugh Laurie – Let Them Talk – 3.5/5
There was an odd conflict in me when approaching this album. Apparent from the lack of blues on this blog, it's never really managed to pique my interest, incapable of really getting that image of B.B. King or John Lee Hooker; that slow soulful playing from an ageing black man out of my mind despite knowing of the versatility within the genre. And yet despite my preconceptions I also hold respect for the man whose career has hopped from the comical shores of 'A little bit of Fry and Laurie' and 'Blackadder' to the medical drama, 'House,' for which he is now probably best known, and knowing his proficiency at music on the side, I couldn't help but be intrigued to see if this couldn't be one of those rare cases of a decent actor making the successful transition into music.
With a strong disposition towards the sound that typified New Orleans; a southern drawling that his unconventional voice is strangely suited, with twanging guitar melodies and prominent piano lines, its tone is not as depressive as I was expecting, displaying quite concisely my lack of knowledge for the genre. It feels as though he's taken the grit from the scene but never preys on the dreariness for all too long, many tracks having a ragtime or upbeat dixieland jazzy tone to it, creating this bittersweet melody out of the strength of simply getting through the torture of life. It might seem odd to make a comparison to the Sludge Metal of Crowbar or Eyehategod – both from New Orleans as well – but ultimately the atmosphere of slowly wading through the hardships and coming out the other side stronger comes across in much the same way, if arriving at their destination via different paths.
With a whole host of musicians guest starring on this release to whom he defers to, the music sways from the simplistic 'man and his guitar' to the complex harmonies of the violins and saxophones, but it never loses its way; the instrumentation is no less integral to the music than the vocals and seamlessly they blend to create the resulting tone. There are times where you will find yourself reaching for the skip button; passages that overstay their welcome and the disjointed transition from Laurie's hybrid British/American accent to a guest vocalist ruining the flow of the album, but fortunately these come few and far between. Laurie's not made a blues fan of me yet, but that's not through a lack of capabilities. He is no weak link amongst his peers despite them having a lot more experience under their belt, and he manages to shake off his narcissistic 'House' persona for a genuinely heartfelt vocal performance that simply has to be heard to be believed.
Highlights: St. James Infirmary, Battle of Jericho, Swanee River