“The studio is like a cathedral,” Laurie says, taking us on a brief tour of Piety Recording Studios in New Orleans where he recorded his album Let Them Talk. “It oozes from the walls. It’s a humbling thing.” When he professes to be “completely in awe of these people” (“these people” being his fellow musicians and Let Them Talk producer Joe Henry), you can well believe it. The in-studio footage offers a behind the scenes look at the recording of songs like “Unchain My Heart” (which didn’t make the album) and “Baby, Please Make a Change”. It is evident from the quality of the sessions and the fine time these musicians had recording that a strong, lasting bond was formed.
In the end, we are treated to a portion of a joyous live performance by Laurie and his band at Latrobe’s on Royal in New Orleans' French Quarter. A stately landmark, Latrobe's was built in 1822 and was once the Louisiana State Bank. It’s a good room, possessing the perfect atmosphere for the gritty, age old music which makes up Laurie’s repertoire. Sir Tom Jones, Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint join Laurie and his band for the show Laurie considers his musical rite of passage.
Down By the River is a glorious ride but at 45 minutes seems much too short; you get the feeling there are many aspects of Laurie’s musical journey yet to be explored. Hopefully he will continue making music, next time sneaking a few original tunes in with the classics. It will be something to look forward to.
Perspectives: Hugh Laurie-Down By the River was produced by Gina Carter for Sprout Pictures and directed by John Paul Davidson. It was originally broadcast in the U.K. on ITV-1 on May 15th, 2011. PBS will probably air the program in the U.S. in the fall.