Anyone who has followed Hugh Laurie’s career as a comedian and an actor knows that he has a deep-seeded love of music. And, if you’ve been paying attention, you will have noticed that he is an accomplished musician…particularly on the piano. But, does the clout that comes with being the highest paid actor in TV, thanks to is gig on House, entitle him to become a recording artist…especially if he wants to play American blues, gospel and jazz?
Laurie himself takes a pre-emptive defensive strike in the liner notes saying, “I am a white, middle-class Englishman, opening trespassing on the music and myth of the American south”.
Laurie has employed producer Joe Henry (Allen Toussaint, Mose Allison, Loudon Wainwright III) and his crack crew of session musicians to give him that authentic American sound, and they do just that. Song-wise, he is performing 15 old blues and gospel tunes, most of which date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s…songs such as Robert Johnson’s They’re Red Hot, Stephen Foster’s Swanee River and traditional tunes like St. James Infirmary, John Henry and The Battle Of Jericho. He’s also got Dr. John, Irma Thomas and Tom Jones to help out with vocals.
All of which makes this seem like a high-priced vanity project. But, as the first few seconds of St. James Infirmary prove, Hugh Laurie is a very fine piano player. The track cruises along beautifully for about two and half minutes and then there’s trouble…Hugh Laurie starts singing.
It’s not that he’s a lousy singer. He has a somewhat thin, reedy voice, but there are a lot worse out there. The problem for me was, I just don’t believe him. Perhaps it’s the fact that I know he’s an actor, and to me, he sounds like he’s “acting” like a blues singer. While his American accent is flawless on House, it seems that it’s much more difficult to make that transition to music.
And so we have a rather frustrating situation here. This is a beautifully played and produced collection of songs. When Dr. John or Irma Thomas sings it’s magical (not sure what Tom Jones is doing here). But every time Hugh Laurie opens his mouth, my heart sinks.
If this had been an all instrumental record featuring Laurie’s piano playing, it would have been just fine. Or, if the entire album was sung by Irma Thomas, I would have been thrilled. But unfortunately Hugh Laurie’s vocal stylings have kept this from being the thoroughly enjoyable listening experience it could have been.
Click here to listen to Six Cold Feet In The Ground from Let Them Talk: