‘House’ of Blues: Hugh Laurie in ‘Perspectives: Down by the River’

‘A middle-aged, middle-class, balding Englishman has no business playing the blues… But what do you do about it?’

Let Them Talk

Hugh Laurie

Label: PID
US Release Date: 2011-05-09

You did not know this perhaps, but Hugh Laurie’s real intention when adopting America as his home was not to create a stir on television but to break into music. His ulterior motive, with the whole acting gig in House just a ploy really, was to be accepted as a serious musician in New Orleans. And being House has certainly opened many doors for him as this documentary, shown on I TV1 in the UK on 15 May 2011, demonstrates. As he tells us, his belief is: ‘There’s only two categories of music that matter: there’s good and there’s bad, the rest is just indexing.’

Hugh Laurie explores his passion for the blues as he travels across Texas, along the Mississippi, and into New Orleans. It's traditional work that inspires him, music from the '50s and '60s and earlier, in his pursuit for the authentic sound for his new album: Professor Longhair, Jellyroll Morton, and Mississippi Sheiks. But this is not just a travelogue with stops along the way; it offers renditions of great tunes (from Irma Thomas and Tom Jones as guest artistes) and features Laurie’s trademark wit to make it engaging and not overly-sentimental.

‘My Obi Wan’ in this quest, he tells us, is record producer and singer/songwriter Joe Henry who tells us the respect he has for Laurie and the admiration for his bravery in entering into such a venture as recording an album of blues music in New Orleans. Yes, Laurie still cannot quite believe it, and has to pinch himself: ‘A middle-aged, middle-class, balding Englishman has no business playing the blues… But what do you do about it?’ He feels he has come home on this spiritual and emotional journey, and never hides his awe and admiration for the artists he gets to work with and the soul of New Orleans that, he says, ‘has looked death in the face’ and come away more alive than ever with its music intact and more powerful.

He talks about the vast cultural expectations that have possessed him and British audiences in general. So he felt hugely invested in the music of New Orleans; but he admits nothing really prepared him – no fictional or recorded rendition – for the real impact that Baptist church music, in the flesh, makes on him or the experience of cycling around the city with music emanating from every doorway.

His voice, which unfortunately lacks richness, just about keeps up with the demands of the songs; but his playing is undoubtedly of a high quality, on piano (he is compared to Jerry Lee Lewis) and guitar, he acquits himself well in extremely illustrious company. He feels that he is able to be a conduit, via his acting reputation, to introduce young people to the greats. Irma Thomas brings her ‘special flavor’ as she calls it to the recording, with Laurie on backing vocals, to which he is much better suited.

He has actually died and gone to Heaven by the end, as he plays a concert with Allen Toussaint in the heart of the French Quarter. So don’t expect any more episodes of House anytime soon.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.