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article imageReview: Hugh Laurie proves his musical worth (again) on 'Didn't It Rain'

By Mindy Peterman     Apr 30, 2013 in Entertainment
Laurie’s love affair with New Orleans blues music takes a detour into the American heartland with 'Didn’t It Rain'. And surprise! This is no vanity project.
You can say one thing about Hugh Laurie: he is a generous soul. The two albums that bear his name, Let Them Talk, from 2011, and the latest, Didn't It Rain, have as much to do with contributions from Laurie’s band mates and guest artists as they do Laurie himself.
However, there is a difference between the recordings and it is a vast one. On Let Them Talk, Laurie and producer Joe Henry occasionally handed the reins to artists like Tom Jones, Irma Thomas, and Laurie’s musical hero, Dr. John. The merits of those artists notwithstanding, their presence did little to enhance the album. In fact, it is disconcerting listening to their tracks; it’s as if those songs were dropped in from entirely different sessions.
This is not the case with Didn’t It Rain. The album is like a family gathering, with everyone from the brood getting their chance to shine. Heck, the first vocal you hear on the album (on the wonderful "St. Louis Blues") isn’t even by Laurie but one of his powerhouse band mates, Sista Jean McClain. McLain and Guatemalan songstress Gaby Moreno prove they are no mere backup singers. Listen to their rollicking gospel infused rendering of the title track, a negro spiritual originally recorded eons ago by the likes of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mahalia Jackson. It is dynamite.
Another highlight of the set is Laurie’s duet with Moreno on “Kiss of Fire” ("El Choclo"), a tango written by Angel Villoldo in 1903 and covered years later by everyone from Nat King Cole to Connie Francis to Louis Armstrong. Laurie and Moreno’s version is a smoldering, sexy paean to the power of lust. Moreno, the seductress, sings the opening verse in Spanish and when Laurie croons the verse in English, his voice is rich and deep and there is no question of his intent. “I touch your lips and all at once the sparks start flying.” Yes, indeed, we get the point.
Then there is Champion Jack Dupree’s “Junker’s Blues”, a song choice which could be almost be considered a tip of the hat to Laurie’s Gregory House. With lines like “Some people call me a junker, 'cause I'm loaded all the time”, it is not difficult to imagine this song playing as a soundtrack to that character’s most desperate, drug-addled days.
Laurie’s cover of the Sinatra standard “One For My Baby” is a nice surprise, even if it doesn’t totally work. The song is a bit too smooth for one as rooted in down home blues and Americana as Laurie.
Taj Mahal is the sole guest artist on the record and he does a credible, rough hewn job on Little Brother Montgomery’s “Vicksburg Blues”.
Laurie’s piano playing is rollicking and masterful throughout and is a definite high point of Didn't It Rain. He has always been a masterful musician, a better piano player than singer, but on this record he is beginning to show more confidence in his vocal abilities. The Copper Bottom Band is top-notch, of course, with Kevin Breit and Greg Leisz (guitars), Jay Bellerose (drums), David Piltch (bass), Vincent Henry, Robby Marshall and Elizabeth Lea (horns), Patrick Warren and Larry Goldings (keyboards), and the aforementioned Moreno and McLain on vocals.
As a sophomore outing, Didn’t It Rain does not disappoint. Next time, though, it would be nice if Laurie could pepper the mix with a few originals. He could even let his band mates sing them, generous soul that he is.
Didn’t It Rain will be available May 6 from Amazon U.K., iTunes, U.K. and other European retailers.
More about Hugh laurie, Blues, Piano, joe henry, Singers
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