Through the years, many actors (too many, probably) have fancied themselves singers and musicians. This is not surprising but the question remains: how many of these “talents” are truly musically adept? Not many, you say? You’re right, but that’s besides the point. The fact is, a fan of a movie or television star will almost always be willing to shell out bucks to hear the object of their desire warble or croon or bang or strum.
Actors such as Zooey Daschanel, Jenny Lewis, Kevin Bacon, and Steve Martin have released material worth a listen. But some like Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal, and David Hasselhoff have offered up “material” which might have been better left on a dusty shelf in the back of the studio. Way in the back of the studio.
This is not the case with Robert Downey, Jr. When Downey, one of my favorite actors, released his album, The Futurist, in November of 2004, I was skeptical but not overly so. Downey had exhibited musical talent prior to this release, crooning a poignant version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” for the soundtrack of his film Chaplin, and re-recording it for The Futurist. It was one of only two cover versions on the Futurist album. The other was an offbeat version of Yes’s “Your Move.” Eight songs on the album were penned by Downey.
After repeated plays, the record became one of my favorites. The songs, jazz-tinged ballads complemented by Downey’s gruff, evocative vocals and more than competent piano playing, are impressive and haunting. Songs about reincarnation (“Kimberly Glides”), starting over (“Man Like Me”), and a jaded look at romance (“Broken”) are deeply personal reflections sung from the heart. I adore this record and wish Downey would do another. But since his movie career has since taken him to greater, greener pastures, I doubt we’ll see another musical offering from him anytime soon.
Cut to the present where another of my favorite actors has thrown his hat into the musical ring. The announcement that Hugh Laurie has signed to Warner Music Entertainment and will release a blues album this fall made my whole day a little brighter. Laurie’s musical talent is no secret. His stellar work as a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist has been showcased on his show House, M.D. and with Band From TV. On A Bit of Fry and Laurie, his ’90s sketch comedy show with Stephen Fry, he wrote most of the songs he performed. And in Jeeves and Wooster, the series based on the P.G. Wodehouse novels, he sang and played piano on songs like “Minnie the Moocher” and “If I Had a Talking Picture of You.”
Laurie’s forthcoming album will be produced by Joe Henry, who has worked with such heavy hitters as Elvis Costello, Ani DiFranco, Loudon Wainwright III, and Mose Allison.
“I am drunk with excitement at this opportunity,” Laurie said in a statement.
Yes. I know exactly how he feels.