Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hugh Laurie -- who knew?

Apparently he was a poor black child.

Seriously, Hugh Laurie has released an album of New Orleans blues on which he is the lead vocalist, pianist, and musical visionary -- and Let Them Talk turns out to be a blast.

Now, Laurie has no business singing opera or adult contemporary, because his voice has a very definite rasp to it that all the vocal training in the world is unlikely to smooth out. But that voice is perfect for the blues, and I defy any performer to relish his music more than Laurie clearly does. This is a guy who is in the original, French sense an amateur -- that is, someone doing what he's doing for the pure love of it without regard for money (though I'm sure he doesn't mind the odd royalty here and there). And, to my surprise and relief, he turns out to be very, very good at it.

Not that he's so good at it that he's likely to have made it big as a musician without first having gotten name recognition from being one of his generation's finest comic and serious actors. This isn't ground-breaking material that expands the frontiers of the blues; it's a tribute album in which Laurie is paying loving and exuberant homage to the masters of the genre he loves. But it's fun, with more joie de vivre than any other album I've come across in the last few years, and it can be listened to over and over and over again (as I've been doing all week), and you find yourself helplessly and delightedly singing along halfway through your first hearing of each new song -- I find that I have to avoid listening to it in Starbucks because I'll suddenly realize I'm singing aloud. In that sense it's very much analogous to another of my all-time favorite albums, Merle Haggard's Same Train, Different Time, his tribute to the music of Jimmie Rodgers. Should Merle have won a Grammy for re-recording Jimmie's music out of sheer love and appreciation for the man's art? No. But could you listen to Merle's album with pleasure from now until the end of time (assuming you like country music in the first place)? Well, I've been listening to it since before I could walk, and I'm not tired of it yet, after almost half a century.

And I think it will be a long time before I'm tired of Let Them Talk.

In short (too late!), unless you just have some sort of personal antipathy to the blues, then you should head straight to Starbucks, buy this album, and leave it in your car's CD player for the next week or so.


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