Sound: Hugh Laurie's debut album, "Let Them Talk", is clearly a labour of love for the celebrated actor. The album consists of a compilation of classic blues songs, many of them originating in his favoured city of New Orleans.
Hugh Laurie, most famously known as Dr. Greg House and for his long comedy pedigree in such works as "Blackadder" and "A Bit Of Fry And Laurie", brings us his own reworkings and covers of blues songs. His skills as both a pianist and a guitarist have been showcased in a number of episodes of House so I was quite pleased to hear that he had decided to put out a blues record.
Laurie's piano skills are more than a match for a number of clearly accomplished musicians, including guest performances from legends such as Tom Jones. I can't help get the feeling that there is too much going on in the background of the songs; a clear contrast to the more stripped down blues sound of the genre's more modern mainstream artists like The Black Keys. There are some moments where the variation of instruments work extremely well. The song "After You've Gone" (feat. Dr. John!) is an excellent example of how with a reduced palette of instruments the skill of Hugh Laurie's piano work, and that of the saxophonist, comes through much more clearly and makes for a far less confusing experience.
There is, one might suggest, a certain lack of consistency with the choice of the instruments that feels a touch awkward when one first progresses through the album. Sudden shifts from piano-based blues to guitar-based blues might be a minor quibble but I certainly found it a touch disorienting. Given the length of the album (just shy of an hour), it seems plausible that he could've put out one guitar-based album and one piano-based album which would have made for not only more consistent records but also excellent marketing.
The instruments themselves are beautifully recorded and I haven't had any concerns about tone or sound quality beyond the small misgivings previously mentioned. In fact, part of the reason the, in my opinion, excessive layering of instruments irks me is that, with such crisp and responsive recordings, it seems a shame not to allow the listener to really sit back and enjoy the sound quality. // 8
Lyrics: The songs are classics and as such the lyrics are long-standing. I think it would be unfair to assess the album of covers on the lyrics so I will refrain from discussing them further.
Hugh Laurie is a competent but perhaps not entirely confident singer. I get the feeling that he could use a little vocal training to open his voice up a little more. It currently has a nasal quality that, whilst not entirely unpleasant, does perhaps indicate he could use some coaching. Aside from this, he hits his notes well and with emotion. The occasional laugh and "hah" caught by the microphones is a very pleasant addition and is warming in the same way that can be found on many older records; no doubt a deliberate inclusion by the ever astute Laurie.
The guest singers provide excellent performers, as might be expected from such long-standing professional vocalists. // 6
Overall Impression: The album has grown on me significantly. It has a warm, upbeat sound to it that provides a relaxing listen. However, it is only an album that I enjoy, I don't find myself enamoured by it. I think it perhaps suffers from simply being an album of covers; if I want to listen to "St. James Infirmary", I'll listen to Louis Armstrong's version. I think Hugh Laurie enjoys playing the songs and I think this is also an effort to introduce others to songs that he loves. Both are excellent reasons to record them, I just hope that Hugh takes the opportunity to record an album of his own songs. I think it is safe to say this marks the first major step of Mr. Laurie's expansion from dramatic acting, comedy and writing into the realms of professional music. Onwards, Hugh! Onwards to polymathicism! // 7