When Hugh Laurie was approached to make an album of blues songs, he was hesitant to do so. Although an accomplished pianist, he questioned whether “Hugh Laurie, Recording Artist” would be taken seriously. He professed, “I was not born in Alabama in the 1890s. I am a white, middle-class Englishman, openly trespassing on the music and myth of the American south.” His reason for accepting the record deal? “I love this music, as authentically as I know how, and I want you to love it too. And if you get a thousandth of the pleasure from it that I’ve had, we’re all ahead of the game.”
Laurie’s album, Let Them Talk, will be released in the U.S. on September 6 but has been available in Europe since May, where it found major chart success. Laurie spent most of his House hiatus in France, Germany, and the U.K touring small clubs to promote the album, joined by his small but mighty Copper Bottom Band.
His renditions of such blues classics as “St. James Infirmary” and “You Don’t Know My Mind” pay homage to the originals. But it’s Joe Henry’s production and Laurie’s obvious love for his material that gives the Let Them Talk album its edge.
As a bookend to this release, PBS will air Hugh Laurie: Let Them Talk-A Celebration of New Orleans Blues on September 30. The original ITV version of this documentary aired in the U.K. as Perspectives-Hugh Laurie: Down By the River. Its primary focus was on “in the studio” scenes, whereas the U.S. version will feature previously unseen concert footage from Laurie’s gig at New Orleans’ historic Latrobe's On Royal.
The program is a fine companion to the CD. Besides the music, Laurie gives us a colorful overview of southern culture as he travels from Texas to New Orleans in his bright red ’66 Ford Galaxie 500. He stops along the way to sit in with a guitar picking circle, shop in an authentic blues record shop, and record with jazz/blues great Allen Toussaint.
With a new album in stores and a documentary set to air, September looks like it’s going to be a very good month for Hugh Laurie. Now if the Emmy votes go his way, he’ll have hit the trifecta.