As House, M.D. geeks like myself (or Rolling Stones fans, also like myself) will tell you, the great philosopher Mick Jagger once said, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you’ll find you get what you need”.
Actually, I think I did get what I wanted, which, incidentally, is also exactly what I needed - Hugh Laurie’s Blues album, Let Them Talk, coming out on May 9th.
The song you’ll hear most often if you look up the album is a brilliant cover of Leadbelly’s You Don’t Know My Mind, which he also played on Jools Holland’s Later... on May 24th with a little more jig than the original. I’m no expert but he played the song on what appeared to be a pre-war 1930’s Gibson guitar, the likes of which Robert Johnson would have played, and if I’m right, my hat’s off to the man because that is some guitar... I actually remember seeing a similar one in a shop window on Denmark Street, you're looking at a good few grand for that ageless beauty.
As Laurie says, the decision to do a record was apparently taken around a year ago, or possibly when he was 8 years old after discovering the Blues of New Orleans and listened to that and practically nothing else for most of his life.
The first records Hugh Laurie bought were Muddy Waters albums, trying hard to pick out Otis Spann’s piano in the background. On the show, Holland showed a short piece of footage of Otis Spann’s Ain’t Nobody’s Business, and proving what an influence he’d been, Laurie involuntarily shook his head to the rhythm as you do to a song you’ve known for a lifetime.
Laurie’s album started to really get people excited after an incredibly successful, but very low-key live gig in his precious New Orleans, which must have made it even more special as the French Quarter became the location of his very first official live Blues gig.
Folks, you’d better check out this link to watch excerpts of the New Orleans gig and see that marvellous guitar.
As for the actual content of his album, Laurie clearly plays tribute to the very roots of Blues. He covers the likes of Huddie Leadbetter, as I mentioned above as well as debuting his own work in the eponymous Let Them Talk, which bears subtle marks of the old delta Blues.
What I appreciate most about this album is that it covers songs with incredible histories of their own. St. James’ Infirmary (live or recorded), for instance, has anonymous origins, probably gathering many an unknown musicians’ troubles along the way until being recorded and made famous by Louis Armstrong back in ’28. As for Swanee River, this unbelievably soulful song is a result of a bit of mistaken geography of the Deep South, an old South Carolina plantation song about the Suwannee river in Southern Georgia that the likes of Bessie Smith, Al Jolson, Judy Garland and even Rufus Wainwright have also sung about.
To be perfectly frank, I’m still quite uncertain whether international movie star endorsement is what the Blues these days needs in order to be brought back from the underground, but my gut instinct tells me this isn’t what Hugh Laurie’s album’s about. I somehow doubt the Blues will break the mainstream any time soon as it did back in the days of Chess Records and the revival, but it’s probably for the best. The Blues wouldn’t be the Blues without a hard time. So keep struggling, folks, something’s gotta give eventually.