After a really long week full of ultra-long days at work that have left my head spinning and begging for time off, I awoke late today. I had a mere half hour to get myself together and out the door. Of course, I found my routine obliterated by obstacles: the cat left a few “gifts” on the rug, I had realized that I really hadn’t slept much so my brain was still offline, not to mention the near pitch blackness of another rainy day in Rochester was making things gloomy as usual. After a hug from my girlfriend, I headed out the door and slid across the standing water in my apartment’s parking lot and drove my creaky car to the nearest coffee shop.
I am not a real caffeine addict… I guess saying that means I am one. Let’s just say I can function without it but on this awful midafternoon, I found that I would probably not survive without some coffee in my bloodstream. I ordered up a caramel macchiato (because I needed a punch and something sweet) and noticed a small rack of CDs for sale by the register. I typically don’t find much there that I would be interested in but one album specifically was gazing up at me. It had this look on its case that said “you will buy me and you’ll have no regrets.” The CD had been there for weeks and it had always given me that look and today I caved and bought it.
Of course, I haven’t played it since I bought it. But now that I am home from an incredibly hard day at work, I will spin it. This is what I would deem an impulse buy and, thusly, an impulse review.
Artist: Hugh Laurie
Title: Let Them Talk
Label: Warner Brothers
Format: CD, 2×12”
You can’t do this review without mentioned that everyone kind of knows Hugh Laurie. I don’t want to flog a dead horse, but this is the guy who started out/still does cartoon voices, has starred in many big name films but he most notably stars on House M.D., a show I am guilty for enjoying as well. That said, let’s move on.
It’s not too surprising that Laurie would release an album and I think many folks had hoped he would. After all, he would constantly play his guitar or piano on the show, and sing once or twice to boot. And at last, like so many other actors and actresses had done before him, an album sprang forth. I am kind of iffy about buying into star power albums, but if it truly seems earnest and true rather than contrived and obviously flushed out to the public for easy cash, I’ll give it a shot. Mr. Laurie, please show me your stuff.
We open with an intensely bluesy piano with a light flurry of other instruments. After a long intro, we finally move into the constructed sections and Hugh graces us with his vocals. Honestly, you might not know he’s from TV; he sounds genuine and seems unafraid to show himself. The lyrics are smooth and bone grabbing. Why, Hugh! You can write, too? Yes, yes he can. Many tracks give me the feeling that I am at a dark bar and there is a piano playing in the corner as the smoke from countless cigarettes swirl around my head. It’s, at times, like looking back at older blues/blues band recordings without going back fifty years. This becomes fairly true with tracks like “Police Dog Blues,” “Battle of Jericho,” “They’re Red Hot,” and “Buddy Bolden’s Blues.”
The style here, over all, is very traditional in the blues genre. Easy beats, slide guitar, bold piano, arching and deep flowing vocals are all plentiful here. We even get treated to a moody but playful violin at times. There’s no real fluff, no showboating of star power, and no moments where one would be left feeling that there’d be no way he could really write this. This is actually good, if you’re into blues.
His rendition of “Swanee River” is a nice touch on an old (and almost forgotten) standard—not much more I can say about that.
So, any criticisms? Well, I am not finding much to say negatively. My only beef against blues is that I had felt for years that a lot of it tends to sound the same. There’s a traditional song structure and subject matter, but in a sense, it would not be the blues without it. The more one indulges in this genre, the more differences one can find within it between artists and subjects. Hugh’s vocals sound like a cross between Chris Martin from Coldplay and Mike Doughty from Soul Coughing (at least to me) and no, that is not a bad thing. It actually gives a sharper edge and gives these blues tracks life.
Much to my surprise, I’ve caught “Police Dog Blues” on the indie stations here in town, and all the while, I had no idea this was his song. I can see why this track is the single: twangy acoustic guitar and true blue vocals—just a perfect track all around.
Should you buy this? I’ve always had a hard time getting into blues when I was younger but this album certainly allows easy access to the genre. There’s no hype, fluff or filler and remains firmly rooted in its blues foundations. So, if you’re into blues or are testing the waters for the first time, I would trongly suggest this album. What’s not to like about it?
4.75 out of 5.