…by Hugh Laurie no less. I sh1t you not! I know what you’re thinking: not another actor trying to cash in on an additional revenue stream. But I’ve actually been waiting for this album since channel surfing and stopping when I caught him being interviewed on a documentary concerning the making of.
As the documentary mentioned, whilst recapping his on-screen career so far; there’s nothing new about Laurie picking up a guitar or sitting at a piano now’n’then. From tongue-in-cheek compositions during his early Fry & Laurie years; to the occasional musical interlude from his Hollywood House MD persona. The guy was obviously talented and had a passion for music in general.
I guess it’s worth warning you up front tho’: Blues is more about feel, soul and experimentation, than mere Pop predictability. So, if you don’t like the Blues or you prefer your vocals pitch perfect (and post-processed), rather than with gravel and character. This ain’t the disc for you. As for me I have many musical tastes to suit my many & varied moods…(and I always appreciated Dylan’s voice as much as did his lyrics).
The opening track (St James Infirmary) brings Laurie’s face to mind; as soon as I hear his familiar voice. But there-after his face generally fades into the background and he’s just another blues singer. No disrespect to the man, you understand. It’s simply that the initial curiosity (or perhaps skepticism) fades and you start listening to the music. The opener is well chosen to show off his piano playing chops and is actually one of my favorites. Noodling with licks’n’riffs reminiscent of Summertime and Minnie the Moocher during the intro. (Anyone remember Cab Calloway in the Blues Brothers)?
Laurie surrounds himself with a group of talented individuals that usually sit in with more seasoned recording artists. But that in itself doesn’t guarantee a winner and here it seems more about enjoying the process, than focusing on the end result. (Not to compare musical talents; but the whole mood reminded me of some of the Clapton acoustic sets I’d seen. It’s not all about Clapton…it’s about the collective…and he always looks like he’s having a blast).
Track selection provides a firm footing, as the band interpret and revive songs originally recorded by blues legends like: Lead Belly, Robert Johnson, Ray Charles and Memphis Slim. Plus, we’re graced with the presence of one or two special guests. Laurie just seems to slot effortlessly into an allotted roll as part of a group weaving a collective musical tapestry.
‘John Henry’ features lead vocals by New Orleans Soul Queen Irma Thomas, with Laurie on backing vocals. Thomas flips to backing for ‘Baby Please Make a Change’; which instead features Tom Jones in the lead spot. (Nice track for Jones the Voice‘s future set list btw. He may be a white boy from the Welsh Valleys, rather than an African American from the delta; but he nails it).
The title track was, for me at least, the weakest on the whole album. But that’s not to say I won’t warm to it. I guess the title of the title track was perhaps the reason for it’s inclusion. Maybe Laurie’s being up-front about the possible criticism he expects. (He’s a respected and successful actor these days and presumably very well paid. Why would he want to step out of his comfort zone and risk people verbally chopping his legs from under him)?
Whatever. The boy done good in my book and I actually think it’s a tidy little album. (If Hugh’s interested in my seal of approval at all? ;o)
We’ve already seen smatterings of Laurie’s musical talents; as mentioned before. So I don’t really see how criticism of somebody so multi-talented could convincingly come across as anything other than sour grapes. I’d expect that, after initially listening to the finished product, Laurie probably went to sleep with a huge cheesy grin on his face that night.
Here’s a snippet from the documentary I mentioned; courtesy of YouTube…