As a Hugh Laurie album nears its release date, the record company offers juicy tidbits about what listeners can expect, like a plate of delectable hors’dourves set on the table before the succulent entree arrives. Such is the case with his highly anticipated blues album, Let Them Talk. Not only do we now know its complete song list including bonus tracks, we have also been told there will be an European tour and TV documentary to look forward to.
According to the latest Warner Music Group news, the release date for the album has been confirmed for both sides of the Atlantic: May 17th in the U.K. and September 17th in the U.S. The reason for the four-month gap may have something to do with Laurie’s availability to tour and promote the CD. Filming on House will probably wrap in April. So it’s no coincidence the press release tells us he will be playing dates in London, Paris and Berlin around the time the album hits the U.K. stores (online and otherwise).
The album’s U.S. date will most likely coincide with the premiere of the eighth season of House. No mention of tour dates yet in the States but I’m sure appearances in a few major cities will not be beyond the realm of possibility.
There is nothing wrong with a little cross promotion but impatient U.S. Laurie fans will not want to wait for the fall for their Laurie blues fix. I foresee the U.K. Amazon site doing bang-up export business over the next few months to satisfy a multitude of fan cravings.
Those bonus tracks I mentioned will be available through U.K. iTunes on March 23rd as a three-song single, entitled You Don’t Know My Mind. If you are able to buy through that site (and you’ll need to have a U.K. address to do so), you can pre-order the single now and have it on your portable device on the morning of the 23rd. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for the album’s release.
So what else do we know about this record? For one thing, an artist needs great players to help make his music shine. Producer Joe Henry has found five session musicians to champion Laurie’s cause. The band on Let Them Talk is Jay Bellerose (drums), David Piltch (bass), Greg Leisz (guitar, dobro, mandolin), Patrick Warren (keys), and Kevin Breit (guitar, tenor sax, mandolin). These guys have worked with great artists such as John Fogerty, Suzanne Vega, KD Lang, Ray Lamontagne, Joni Mitchell, Robert Plant and Allison Krauss to name just a few. There’s no question that the caliber of musicianship on this record will be high.
This all sounds fantastic and the project certainly has all the earmarks of a delectable musical offering. But what about the origins of this album? What makes a successful, internationally acclaimed actor throw his hat onto the musical landscape? Is this album simply the whim of a bored, complacent TV star seeking something new and exciting to pass the time? Not to hear Laurie tell it.
After being forced as a child to endure three months of piano lessons from, as he so colorfully puts it, “a warty thug who bullied me across the hot coals of do-re-mi,” a song came on the radio. “I’m pretty sure it was “I Can’t Quit You Baby” by Willie Dixon,” he says. “And my whole life changed. A wormhole opened between the minor and major third, and I stepped through into Wonderland. Since then, the blues have made me laugh, weep, dance … well, this is a family record, and I can’t tell you all the things the blues can make me do.”
So he’s not complacent about his craft. Music, it seems, has long been one of the passions of Laurie’s life. Look beyond his work with celebrity rock band Band From TV. Look deep enough into his history and you’ll see music has been part of his creative output since his work with Stephen Fry in the ‘90s.
On the A Bit of Fry and Laurie sketch comedy show, Laurie would often play piano and perform his own musical material. He could also be seen crooning ditties such as “Nagasaki” and “If I Had a Talking Picture of You” on his and Fry’s Jeeves and Wooster program. A far cry from the blues of Let Them Talk but still, these examples are proof of how music has always been part of who Laurie is.
Unfortunately, those years offered no outlet for Laurie’s passion for the blues and soul of New Orleans. But it is a passion that has endured since that first Willie Dixon-inspired epiphany. Laurie explains, “At the centre of this magical new kingdom, high on a hill (which shows you how little I knew back then), stood the golden city of New Orleans. In my imagination, it just straight hummed with music, romance, joy, despair; its rhythms got into my gawky English frame and, at times, made me so happy, and sad, I just didn’t know what to do with myself. New Orleans was my Jerusalem.”
It is with this statement in mind I predict Let Them Talk will be praised not only as a solid tribute to the music of New Orleans but as Hugh Laurie’s labor of love and the culmination of his musical dream.
Let Them Talk’s track list:
1) “St. James Infirmary” (Louis Armstrong/Snooks Eaglin)
2) “You Don’t Know My Mind” (Lead Belly)
3) “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” (Jelly Roll Morton)
4) “The Whale Has Swallowed Me” (J.B.Lenoir)
5) “John Henry” (Memphis Slim/Snooks Eaglin)
6) “They’re Red Hot” (Robert Johnson)
7) “Six Cold Feet” (Leroy Carr)
8) “Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho” (Sister Rosetta Tharp)
9) “After You’ve Gone” (Bessie Smith/Fats Waller)
10) “Swanee River” (Ray Charles/Dr. John)
11) “Police Dog Blues” (Blind Blake)
12) “Tipitina” (Professor Longhair)
13) “Whining Boy Blues” (Jelly Roll Morton)
14) “Baby, Please Make A Change” (Mississippi Sheiks)
15) “Let Them Talk” (James Booker)
“Guess I’m A Fool” (Memphis Slim)
“It Ain’t Necessarily So” (Louis Armstrong)
“Low Down, Worried and Blue” (Dr. John)