LET THEM ALL TALK (2011)
St. James Infirmary/You Don't Know My Mind/Six Cold Feet/Buddy Bolden's Blues/Battle Of Jericho/After You've Gone/Swanee River/The Whale Has Swallowed Me/John Henry/Police Dog Blues/Tipitina/Whinin' Boy Blues/They're Red Hot/Baby Please Make A Change/Let Them Talk
If you are a TV celebrity who wants to release an album, what do you do? You either please middle-aged ladies at Christmas and release an album of Sinatra crooners, Christmas classics or "songs from the shows", or you don a pork pie hat like Lenny Henry and you get the blues. Or if you are Hugh Laurie and you have a long-held love of the blues, but you can play a mean piano, you do as he has done here. You ask Tom Jones, Irma Thomas and Dr. John along and you've got yourself an album.
Actually, although it is very easy target practice criticising albums like this, it isn't a bad effort at all. Laurie is certainly an impressive pianist. His voice leaves a little to be desired, I have to say. The instrumentation is, as you would expect, top notch, but Laurie's cod-American "blues" voice is clearly not the real thing. Having said that, when an East Coast US artist such as Bruce Springsteen goes all country it can be similarly disconcerting.
St. James Infirmary is a low-key opener, with three minutes of piano from Laurie before the bluesy bass, slide guitar and vocals arrive. Laurie puts on his best blues voice and you can tell that it is not authentic, but it still just about passes muster. Better than I could do, for sure. When you consider that the album is Hugh Laurie, it is actually surprisingly good. However, that is because I am thinking "this is an actor singing the blues" and over-compensate my opinions in his favour.
You Don't Know My Mind is a mandolin-driven shuffler of a track, sort of bluesy and jazzy. Very New Orleans. Six Cold Feet is an archetypal, bleak, slide guitar blues. Laurie's voice doesn't work so well on this one, I have to say. He lacks the husky smokiness that allows a Chris Rea, Van Morrison or Mark Knopfler to get away with it. The same applies to Buddy Bolden's Blues, however hard Laurie, as an actor, tries with his American accent.
The slow, New Orleans gospel of Battle Of Jericho comes across more a bit more convincingly, as Laurie tones the accent down slightly. After You've Gone is one of his better efforts, and it features some nice tenor saxophone too. Dr. John is on this one, so maybe that is why it is one of the better tracks. Swannee River is Laurie's finest piano moment as he goes all Jools Holland. The Whale Has Swallowed Me is a sonorous, sombre and pretty bona fide blues. John Henry is a track that has been recorded by Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen as well. Here is it delivered at a slow pace with Irma Thomas on vocals. Of course, it becomes the album's most "blues" track thus far.
Police Dog Blues is a proper acoustic blues in the classic blues verse style of two repeated verses then a different, but rhyming one. Tipitina is much slower than Professor Longhair's Atlantic Records original. Laurie's version has considerably more punch and soul, instrumentally. Whinin' Boy Blues is not the Van Morrison song Whinin' Boy Moan but a far less lively, shuffling, scratchy blues number. They're Red Hot is irritating and just doesn't suit Laurie. Baby Please Make A Change features the instantly recognisable strong voice of Tom Jones, someone who never needed to obviously put on a US accent in order to sing the blues. Let Them All Talk is another one that doesn't quite succeed.
Overall, the album was a brave effort and I won't be queueing up to dismiss it, but the fact that it has its faults cannot be ignored.