If you’d placed a bet back in the days of Hugh Laurie gallivanting around cheaply-made Blackadder sets that in 2013 he would become the latest jazz and blues sensation, the chances are you’d have had unbelievably good odds on that. But here we are in 2013 and the veteran comedy actor, who is as English as a good cup of Earl Grey, is once again cracking the whip of classic blues tunes.
The wheel probably started turning during his days as Gregory House in the TV all-star jazz collective Band From TV (see what they did there!?). His flawless piano playing and soulful voice was prominent amongst a band of fellow actors who, it’s fair to say, carried rather less talent than television’s most gloriously surly MD.
Hugh released his first batch of tunes in 2011, in the glorious album Let Them Talk which saw him take the honour of the most pre-ordered debut album of all time on the iTunes chart and become a multi-platinum selling artist. Now with his commitments to House finished, Hugh is back with Didn’t It Rain.
Continuing in very much the same vein as his 2011 debut, Didn’t It Rain sees Hugh tinkling away on piano and rasping sweet-nothings with his inimitable take on some American classics, which worryingly gets you wondering whether he chose the right career path in acting.
From the off it’s worth mentioning that Hugh sings in an American accent, and this is likely to be the most divisive element of his style. Some have criticised his choice of accent given that his ordinary British accent can sing rather well, but there’s something about the character of jazz and blues music that really requires a rather more dramatic transatlantic slur.
What’s most important with this style of music is feel, and feel is what Laurie has by the bucket load. He oozes genuine joy through every pore with every note he plays, and most humbly, he appears genuinely grateful that he has the opportunity to rock the proverbial joint each night with The Copper Bottom Band: a hand-picked selection of the finest musicians from New Orleans and elsewhere.
Much like the first album, Laurie once again tackles traditional jazz and delta blues, but has this time added burlesque and gospel to his repertoire, and it works a treat. The seductive groove of The Weed Smoker’s Dream saunters up close and whispers tantalising promises in your ear, whilst Kiss of Fire with its promise of ‘devil lips that know so-well the art of lying’ will have you worked up in an ecstasy of desire for the opposite sex so potent that Hugh Laurie could be the devilish debonair matchmaker in disguise.
The upbeat swagger of the title track sees the band rocking gospel to its limit, with swirls of Hammond organ and stabs of Sax so energetic the song ascends into an orgy of musical virtuosity before it’s all brought back down again for the delicate beauty of Careless Love.
Listening to this record it becomes clear that what Hugh Laurie is doing is not only playing the music he loves, but popularising the genre which has been dying on its feet for over a decade now for a whole new generation who have only really come to this because it’s the guy that plays House singing. The only criticism would be that the album features a few too many guest spots, to the point where at times it isn’t so recognisable as a Hugh Laurie album, although this is just as much a mark of his genuine modesty. Next time it would be great to hear him have a go at writing a few tunes in this style and establish himself as his own songwriter.
Minor niggles aside, this album is almost perfect, and displays a nous for the genre where it’s all too easy to over-indulge and lose the song structure. Best enjoyed with a tumbler of bourbon and a beautiful lady by your side, lose yourself in the swinging charms of this album. The best album of 2013? You better believe it.