Hey, who wants to read a formulaic paragraph about how actors who turn to music typically churn out vanity projects that nobody ends up liking, citing Bruce Willis and Keanu Reeves as particularly egregious examples? …Good, because I’m not interested in writing it. In other news, House M.D. made a blues record.
As it turns out, Hugh Laurie – star of television’s hugely-popular House, among other things – is both an accomplished musician and a tremendous fan of the blues. His debut album, Let Them Talk, is accordingly classified as a blues album; not B.B. King-styled 12-bar blues, but swampy New Orleans-style, Dr. John- and Jelly Roll Morton-aping blues. It’s piano-and-horn heavy, occasionally apocalyptic, and – this is important – performed entirely in earnest. Mr. Laurie’s respect for the blues is evident – he’s cherry-picked a varied selection of deep cuts for inclusion here, and he manages to play them all straight without sacrificing the sense that he’s enjoying himself – and Let Them Talk is clearly a passion project for a talented individual. A shame, then, that it’s so dull.
Let Them Talk, you see, is background music; after an extended piano intro, courtesy of Mr. Laurie, that sounds like this album’s gonna be the most evocative thing since Springsteen opened Born to Run with a mournful Roy Bittan piano run, Laurie turns in a rote reading of “Saint James Infirmary” that, like Hugh’s singing voice, is competent, yet unremarkable. And such is the album’s template: these standards are far from slandered, performed okay, gussied up with an Allen Touissant horn arrangement here and there – and then they simply leave the ear, with no reason to linger or stick. It’s significantly more palatable than that awful Puddle of Mudd album, but as a collection of standards, is similarly limp. It’s a bit more disappointing, though, because we as a culture essentially admit that Puddle of Mudd is going to fail; Laurie is a fine actor, a genial comic, and a hell of a piano player, and we root for his success.
Bright spots emerge on repeated listens, sure. “Battle of Jericho” suggests that Laurie’s spent some time with Springsteen’s album of Pete Seeger covers, We Shall Overcome – it seems cut from the same cloth as the Boss’s take on “O Mary, Don’t You Weep”, a catchy spiritual colored with agreeably doomy violins, lurching minor-key rhythms, and ghostly backing vocals. “You Don’t Know My Mind” shines by virtue of picking up the pace a bit; “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” finds Laurie flexing his voice-over muscles by speaking as several different characters. Still, the record’s a trying cover-to-cover listen – it’s long, and samey, and front-loaded with the good songs. It lacks grit, and it lacks – and this is surprising coming from an actor of Mr. Laurie’s caliber – character above all. Let Them Talk isn’t the worst thing that could be playing in Starbucks while you hunker down to finish that screenplay; but, unfortunately, that’s about all it’s useful for.