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Let Them Talk


Hugh Laurie
Let Them Talk

Warner Bros. Records
R2 527497


1. St. James Infirmary
Trad / Joe Primrose (arr) / EMI Harmonies Limited

(Overture) St. James: An Infirmary In Two Parts
Many believe this song to be descended from an ancient English folk ballad, The Unfortunate Rake, and that the original St. James was a lepers’ hospital in London – later converted by Henry VIII into St. James Palace. Probably the most famous version of the song was recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1928.

2. You Don’t Know My Mind
Clarence Williams, Sam Gray, Virginia Liston / Redwood Music, Ltd., Lawrence Wright Music Co Ltd

3. Six Cold Feet
Leroy Carr / Copyright Control

4. Buddy Bolden’s Blues
Trad / Ferninand Morton / MCD Music Limited

Buddy Bolden’s Blues
Charles “Buddy” Bolden is often credited with being the father of jazz. (Like success, jazz has many fathers, while Morris dancing is an orphan.) Born in New Orleans in 1877, Bolden was overtaken by schizophrenia before he was 30. He left behind no recording of his music, only myth – but he left plenty of that. Jelly Roll Morton (who himself claimed visitation rights on jazz, if not outright paternity) made the first recording of Buddy Bolden’s Blues. It’s a strange and wonderful song that describes the funky atmosphere generated by the dancing heat of Bolden’s live performances. It may be that Bolden coined the word “funky”, even before the word “jazz” had taken hold.

5. Battle of Jericho

Trad / Public Domain

6. After You’ve Gone
Henry Creamer / Turner Layton / Francis Day and Hunter Ltd

After You’ve Gone
The song is as strong as an ox, which explains why it has survived so many attempts on its life. The great Bessie Smith recorded it in 1928, and the pretty much as-great Mac Rebennack sings this version. He makes me jump for joy every time I hear him, although I didn’t tell him that at the time.

7. Swanee River
Stephen Collins Foster / Ray Charles / Carlin Music Corp

Swanee River (Stephen Foster)
Another darn trespasser, Foster was born in Pennsylvania and never saw the actual Suwanee River. Nor did he ever set foot in Florida, which adopted Swanee River as its state anthem in 1935. His original idea was for the Yazoo River – who know what would have happened?


8. The Whale Has Swallowed Me
J. B. Lenoir / Bug Music Ltd.

9. John Henry
Trad / Peter Chatman (arr) / Bug Music Ltd.

10. Police Dog Blues
Arthur Phelps / Public Domain

11. Tipitina
Cosimo V. Matassa / Roy Byrd / Carlin Music Corp

Tipitina: A Hungarian Shuffle
I loved this song as a boy without having any idea what Tipitina is or means, and decided that I liked not knowing. A place, a woman, a drink, a skin complaint. Who cares? Professor Longhair was a colossus.

12. Winin’ Boy Blues
Ferninand Joseph Morton / EMI Music Publishing Ltd.

13. They’re Red Hot
Robert Leroy Johnson / Kobalt Music Publishing Limited

14. Baby, Please Make A Change
Armeta Bo Carter Chatmon / Alonzo Lonnie Chatmon / Hull Music Publishing, Copyright Control

15. Let Them Talk
Harry A. Carlson / Lew Douglas / Erwin King / Peermusic (UK) Ltd

(Huddie Ledbetter) Among the many legends that are attached to Lead Belly, there’s this: that he was twice released from separate life sentences, one in Texas and one in Louisiana, by singing for the respective state governors. Even now, you hear his voice, his mind, his poetry, and you’d set him free.

Produced by Joe Henry

Recorded and Mixed by Ryan Freeland
Executive Producer: Conrad Withey

Recorded at Ocean Way Recording, Hollywood, CA – July 26 and 27; September 1; October 4-8; and 21, 2010
Recording assistance at Ocean Way provided by Wesley M. Seidman

Additional Recording at: Piety Street Recording, New Orleans, LA, October 18, 2010
Recording Assistance at Piety Street provided by Wesley Fontenot and Paul Marinaro

Mixed at Stampede Origin, Los Angeles, CA

Mastered by Gavin Lurssen at Lurssen Mastering, Los Angeles, CA


The Band Is:

Hugh Laurie – Vocals, piano, guitar and percussion
Jay Bellerose – Drums and percussion
Kevin Briet – Tenor and six-string guitar, mandolin and mandocello
Greg Leisz – Guitar, lap-steel, Weissenborn, and mandola
David Piltch – Upright bass
Patrick Warren – Field organ, autoharp, accordion and additional keyboards

Craig Eastman – Violin and tenor violin
Levon Henry – Tenor sax on “Six Cold Feet In The Ground”
Robby Marshall – Clarinet and alto clarinet
Jean McClain – Backing vocals
Gennine Jackson  - Backing vocals
Jo Green – Handclaps on “Six Cold Feet In The Ground”

Horns on “St. James Infirmary”, “Tipitina”, and “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” arranged and conducted by Allen Toussaint
Featuring: Brian “Breeze” Cayolle – Tenor and baritone saxophone
Tracy Griffin – Trumpet
Clarence J. Johnson the 3rd – Alto saxophone
“Big Sam” Williams - Trombone

Special Guests:
Irma Thomas – Vocals on “John Henry,” Backing vocals on “Baby Please Make A Change”
Dr. John – Vocals on “After You’ve Gone”
Sir Tom Jones – Vocals on “Baby Please Make A Change”

Photography: Michael Wilson
Design: Anabel Sinn

Thanks to: Conrad Withey, Conor O’Mahony, Katrina Murray, Jessica Castle, David Whitehead, Shawn Hall, Mark Bingham, Christian Hodell, Brandt Joel, Stephen Fry, Jools Holland, Mrs. Hare, JP Davidson, Grace Wilson, Chris Kelley, Ina Treciokas, Charlie, Bill and Becca.



I was not born in Alabama in the 1890s. you may as well know this now. I’ve never eaten grits, cropped a share, or ridden a boxcar. No gypsy woman attended my birth and there’s no hellhound on my trail, as far as I’m aware. Let this record show that I am a white, middle-class Englishman, openly trespassing on the music and myth of the American south.

If that weren’t bad enough, I’m also an actor; one of those pampered ninnies who can’t find his way through an airport without a babysitter. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that I’ve got some Chinese characters tattooed on my arse. Or elbow. Same thing.

Worst of all, I’ve broken an important rule of art, music and career paths; actors are supposed to act, and musicians are supposed to music. That’s how it works. You don’t buy fish from a dentist, or ask a plumber for financial advice, so why listen to an actor’s music?

The answer is – there is no answer. If you care about pedigree than you should try elsewhere, because I have nothing in your size.

I started piano lesson at the age of 6 with Mrs. Hare. She was a nice woman, probably, but in my childhood memory I have turned her into a sadistic bruiser who prodded me across the hot coals of do-re-mi. I stuck it for about three months, crawling through Elementary Piano Book One toward the oasis of Swanee River – hardly a blues song, I know, but a lot closer than the French lullabies and comical Polish dances that made up the rest of that hellish book.

The day finally arrived, and Mrs. Hare turned the page: “Swanee River”, she read, peering through the pince-nez that I have imagined for her, 45 years later. And then, with a curl of her hairy lip, she read the subtitle: “ ‘Negro Spiritual – Slightly Syncopated.’ Oh dear me no ….”

With that, she flicked the page to Le Tigre Et L’Elephant, or some other prissy nightmare, and my relationship with formal music instruction ended.

And then one day a song came on the radio – I’m pretty sure it was I Can’t Quit You Baby by Willie Dixon – and my whole life changed. A wormhole opened between the minor and major third, and I stepped through into Wonderland. Since then, the blues have made me laugh, weep, dance … well, this is a family record, and I can’t tell you all the things the blues can make me do.

At the centre of this magical new kingdom, high on a hill (which shows you how little I knew back then), stood the golden city of New Orleans. In my imagination, it just straight hummed with music, romance, joy, despair; its rhythms got into my gawky English frame and, at times, made me so happy, so sad, I just didn’t know what to do with myself.  New Orleans was my Jerusalem.

Over the next decade, I ate up all the guitarists I could find: Charley Patton and Leadbelly, Skip James, Scrapper Blackwell, all the Blinds (Lemon Jefferson, Blake, Willie Johnson, Willie McTell), Son House, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and so many more that we’d be here all night just naming a tenth of them.

And then there were the towering piano players: Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, Roosevelt Sykes, Leroy Carr, Jelly Roll Morton, Champion Jack Dupree, Tuts Washington, Willie “The Lion” Smith, Otis Spann, Memphis Slim, Pinetop Perkins, Professor Longhair, James Booker, Allen Toussiant and Dr. John.

I think I tended to favour the piano over the guitar because it stays in one place, which is what I like to do. Guitars appeal to the footloose, the restless. I like sitting a lot.

As for singers, that’s a huge list, with only two names on it: Ray Charles and Bessie Smith.

These great and beautiful artists lived it as they played it. All of them knew the price of a loaf of bread and most had times in their lives when they couldn’t scrape it together. They had credentials, in other words, and I respect those as much as the next man, possibly more.

But at the same time, I could never bear to see this music confined to a glass cabinet, under the heading Culture: Only To Be Handled By Elderly Black Men. That way lies the grave, for the blues and just about everything else: Shakespeare only performed at The Globe, Bach only played by Germans in tights. It’s formaldehyde, and I pray that Leadbelly will never be dead enough to warrant that.

So that’s my only credential – my one dog-eared ID card that I hope will get me through the velvet ropes. I love this music, as authentically as I know how, and I want you to love it too. If you get a thousandths of the pleasure from it that I’ve had, we’re ahead of the game.

Hugh Laurie


When Hugh Laurie first got in touch and invited me along on this journey, I knew immediately who I believed should be in the boat with us: who might best keep us buoyant, our spirits high, our flanks covered. In the case of a few of our brethren, it wasn’t a matter of preference but of absolute musical necessity: when their schedules couldn’t be made to fit our initial scheme … we reconfigured; waited.

Because there are map readers, and then there are those who can read the shifting stars like they were a racy tell-all. And frequently, those among that latter group also know where to find a bone-dry martini, even out on the high seas …

DAVID PILTCH is on upright bass. He is both an anchor, and the sound of one being shaken loose: I know few musicians who offer so much support and freedom simultaneously. In that regard, he is like everyone’s favorite parent chaperone on the senior class field trip.

KEVIN BRIET is a brilliant multi-instrumentalist, taking on standard and tenor guitars, dobro, mandolin and ukelele, etc., - sometimes several at once. While surfing the strings of a Telecaster, I once saw Kevin kick a nearby banjo during a live take because, in that moment, it offered just the right moan when we really needed one.

Kevin’s partner in the “string section” – on guitar, lap-steel, mandolin, mandocello, dobro, and Weissenborn – is the legendary GREG LEISZ. Look him up if you must. Greg sat at the center of our proceedings like our own Buster Keaton: even when the barn blew apart around him – Greg was stone-faced and unconcerned, and never gave anything away. “Who … me?”

PATRICK WARREN is on field organ, Chamberlin and accordion throughout. He is a veteran of one of Tom Waits’ landmark touring ensembles; played with Bob Dylan at the White House – and while his wife was nearing labor with their first child. That he survived the former without punishment for the latter is testament to his supernaturally stealth nature, and surprising good fortune. If Patrick goes to the horse track … follow him.

And you are right: that is JAY BELLEROSE on drums, percussion, and auto parts, and had to be. You’ll notice he is also credited with playing a glass of scotch on “Winin’ Boy Blues,” and it is no joke: during what would prove the “keeper” take of that song, Jay was sitting on the floor not three feet from Hugh, a crystal glass splashed half-full with 21-year old Macallan sitting atop his antique snare drum, standing in for a cymbal. You can hear it ring. On the subsequent take, the pitch of the glass had mysteriously lowered by nearly a quarter tone, making any edit between the two unseemly … or at least, a dead give-away.

Our engineer is three-time Grammy winner (you heard me) RYAN FREELAND. A musician first, Ryan – more than any engineer I know – is like someone taking minutes at a séance. He knows how to bottle every bit of weather in the room.

This core band was augmented late on the first day of recording by the old-soul / 18-year-old tenor saxophonist, Levon Henry, who was slumming with us on his summer vacation from school; and a few days later by the slim and most gifted clarinetists Robby Marshall, who introduced the alto variant of the instrument that looked like a strange pipe one might smoke along the Nile. Then Craig Eastman joined in for an afternoon or two, bringing along a tenor violin that none of us had ever seen. In the right hands, it produces a low huffy growl, like Bette Davis, after she’d been asked to saw one piece of lumber too many.

To all this, please, add soul-sisters/vocalists Jean McClain and Gennine Jackson-Francis, and a horn section under the direction of none other than Allan Toussiant – the living patriarch of music in New Orleans – and you have the full lay of our land.

Hugh Laurie would have you believe he was holding fast to all of us, fearing hell and high water; but that wouldn’t be anywhere near truth. As Hugh well knows, when recording music of this nature, both rising tides and visions of the devil are fiercely desirable; and Hugh had vision enough for all of us.

Joe Henry


Irma Thomas appears courtesy of Rounder Records
Sir Tom Jones appears courtesy of Universal Island Records, a division of Universal Music Operations Limited.
Dr. John appears courtesy of his own staggering invention.


(p) & © 2011 Warner Music UK Limited. All Rights Reserved. Manufactured & Marketed by Rhino Entertainment Company, a Warner Music Group Company, 3400 W. Olive Avenue, Burbank, CA 91505-4614. Printed in U.S.A. www.rhino.com FBI Anti-Piracy Warning: Unauthorized copying is punishable under federal law.
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