Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 May, 2011, 12:00am


Actor Hugh Laurie is best known to British audiences for his collaborations with Stephen Fry, and his appearances in assorted roles in Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder TV series. To everybody else he is the irascible Dr Gregory House. He is noteworthy as one of the few English actors able to sound consistently and convincingly American.

Curiously that skill seems to desert him as a singer, and on his debut album Let Them Talk (Warner Bros) for which he has assumed the role of bluesman, he sounds, in his own words, like 'a white, middle class Englishman, openly trespassing on the music and myth of the American south ... if you care about pedigree you should try elsewhere, because I have nothing in your size'.

He is a little hard on himself. Laurie has a voice that does little more than carry a tune, but he is a gifted New Orleans-style pianist, and plays pretty capable blues guitar. The album is worth hearing because he has put together an excellent band to reinterpret classic blues tunes from the repertoires of such artists as Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Professor Longhair, and Ray Charles.

The contributions of the other musicians are uniformly fine, but it is worth singling out Greg Leisz whose lap steel guitar work supplies the album with its most distinctive instrumental stylings.

Placing his own voice in contrast to three much stronger ones - Sir Tom Jones, as we must now call him, makes an appearance singing Baby Please Make a Change - was perhaps foolhardy of Laurie, but the real purpose of the album and a subsequent tour of jazz festival appearances seems to have been to have some fun playing the music.

Let Them Talk is worth a listen ( but to hear an English pianist and singer who truly sounds like the real Crescent City deal try anything by Jon Cleary (

Take Three

Three noteworthy albums on which actors display real musical ability and an affinity with the blues.

Briefcase Full of Blues (Atlantic, 1978): whatever his other gifts, it's impossible to make much of a case for the late John Belushi as a blues or soul singer. However, partner Dan Aykroyd not only handles his vocal parts more than competently, but is an adept blues harmonica player. This album, which came out before the John Landis movie, was the Blues Brothers' first foray outside the confines of Saturday Night Live, and features a red hot band including Matt 'Guitar' Murphy and half of Booker T and the MGs.

Wild Man Blues (RCA, 1997): although billed as the soundtrack to the documentary Wild Man Blues which featured Woody Allen on tour with his New Orleans jazz band, these performances were actually recorded a couple of years later. A serious clarinettist since childhood, Allen is featured prominently as a soloist here, and plays with conviction and finesse.

Piano Blues (Sony, 2003): this selection perhaps is cheating a bit, because although Clint Eastwood is a highly capable pianist he doesn't feature here in that role. This is the soundtrack to a film he directed for the Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues series and is a selection of his picks from some of the greatest recordings ever made in the piano blues field - 20 tracks, every one a gem, from an all star cast including Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles and Dr John.