Let Them Talk’ is a highly anticipated release from the British actor, producer and writer Hugh Laurie. He is currently probably best known for his leading role in the TV drama series “House”. Some of his most memorable performances also include the classic British sitcom series “Blackadder” (with Rowan Atkinson), and with Stephen Fry in “Jeeves and Wooster” and “A Bit of Fry and Laurie”. An accomplished actor, Laurie has also been playing the piano since the age of 6 and performed with celebrity bands Poor White Trash and the Little Big Horns and Band From TV.
Rather than featuring original material, ‘Let Them Talk’ is instead a tribute to the New Orleans blues, a genre Laurie is particularly passionate about. Of course, a music record by an actor might raise a few eyebrows. But you might just want to give this one a chance, because with 15 timeless tracks recorded with help from industry legends (such as the pianist and composer Allen Toussaint and producer Joe Henry), this is a rather intriguing offering. The songs are given a brand new life with interesting arrangements, creating a sonic masterpiece that is beautiful yet modern, thus might be appreciated even by younger listeners.
The album opens with a subtle piano solo, building up to the rhythmic St. James Infirmary. The elaborate instrumentation makes it a powerful and atmospheric opener, a tasty prelude to the musical journey that is ‘Let Them Talk’. Following this track are some great compositions, each notable in its own way. Featured rendition of Battle of Jericho is simply beautiful and it’s one of the more memorable pieces on the album. The song is steady-paced and instrumentally rather toned down, but the intense sound of a gospel choir makes it vocally powerful. This strong dynamic makes it a distinct interpretation. Elsewhere, the largely instrumental rendition of Swanee River, with fast tempo and complex passages, presents Laurie as a skilled pianist. Some interesting melodies are to be found here, with the sounds of violins and accordion. Songs like the first single You Don’t Know My Mind or Buddy Bolden’s Blues do highlight Laurie’s rather skillful vocals, showing that crossing over from acting to music does not always have to be a bad idea. As for the more relaxed pieces, such as Tipitana and They’re Red Hot, they feature some rather elaborate arrangements, but remain entertaining nonetheless. Although the songs are rich instrumentally, Laurie’s somewhat nonchalant voice adds some distance to the adaptations.
Some of the best known names in the genre were involved in the making of this record. After You’ve Gone features a guest performance by Laurie’s life-long hero Dr. John. His voice and the mellow piano sound create a pleasant, moody vibe over nostalgic lyrics about love lost, and the listener can just forget the world – such is the power of this subtle song. The Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas sings lead vocals of John Henry, and her voice really creates the atmosphere of the song and brings the story to life. The phrase “instant classic” was made for pieces like this one. And let’s not forget Baby, Please Make a Change, which is sang by Sir Tom Jones, with background vocals from Thomas and Laurie. Sir Jones sounds as good as ever, and although the song itself may not be too well known, this interpretation should secure its place among the classics. The album concludes with the title ballad, Let Them Talk. This melodic piece ends the record on a warm, soothing note.
The star-studded line-up, excellent instrumentation and modern interpretations of timeless classics make ‘Let Them Talk’ a notable tribute to the blues genre. It is also a great accomplishment for Hugh Laurie who established himself as a talented musician and not a bad vocalist. Even if some may not be too fond of his singing efforts, the record as a whole is still an amazing listening experience. And although led by Laurie, this album is not really about the actor – it’s a celebration of a great and influential genre. This collection has the ability to introduce a whole new generation to sounds and artists that created foundations of modern music. And that is what really makes ‘Let Them Talk’ such an important record.
By Natalia Gronowska