Musical Musings: On "Let Them Talk: A Celebration of New Orleans Blues," by Hugh Laurie

Every man is allowed one pilgrimage in his life. This is mine.

-- Hugh Laurie

So begins "Let Them Talk," a musical homage from Hugh Laurie to the New Orleans Blues. Part musical album, part documentary, part exploratory journey, and wholly encapsulating his love for the music of the South, it is truly, a pilgrimage in every sense of the word.

This visual presentation is meant as an accompaniment to his musical album "Let Them Talk," but it hardly feels like a second fiddle. A majority of the duration of the programming is devoted to the songs from the album, and Laurie walks us through notable points in the history of the Blues, offering appetizing tidbits of information, lingering just long enough to give a teaser of the main course - The New Orleans Blues. Our journey starts from Fredericksburg, Texas, and goes through Austin, and Luckenbach, before entering New Orleans, LA. Along the way, we meet an eclectic collection of factoids, people, and places where the Blues took strong roots, thrived, and have stayed strong since. Laurie narrates this journey with his trademark wit, coupled with a fanboy enthusiasm that endears and pulls us right into the space "Down the River/ Into the Heart of Lightness." Laurie wears his musician's hat proudly, and plunges into the music scene with both hands (playing superbly with Miss Lavelle White, a blues legend). There is a nod to his predecessors (Martin Scorsese, Ken Burns, Spike Lee to name a few), but there is ample demonstration that this journey will bear his unique stamp on it. At one point, he compares this journey to climbing Everest -- "a very big thing for the person doing it, but at the same, I am aware that I am going to find ropes, and oxygen tanks, and Mars bars wrappers along the way... It's a well traveled route." What is undoubtedly fresh, is the view from the top of the world. 

This feeling of earnest inquiry permeates the film. Laurie plays and sings, with his collaborators, the Copper-Bottom Band and some of New Orleans' famous musicians (Irma Thomas, Tom Jones, Dr. John). The choice of the songs is quite telling too -- they represent not a #1 billboard list, but a deep connection to the South, the land, its history, its people. There is something intangible about this music, something that stays true to the times (when it was created), and yet speaks of a universal experience. "Down the Swanee River" becomes more than just a lament of a runaway slave, it speaks to the displacement that is as much a part of our lives today as it was then. "John Henry" mirrors the constant struggle between humanity and its tools, and the price we pay for progress. The Blues speak to us not just as a document of despair and poverty, but as shining exemplars of our eternal desire to overcome the odds in spite of. Laurie caps the album with the song that is admittedly a reflection of his personal journey - "Let Them Talk (I Will Keep On Loving You...)"

"Let Them Talk" is refreshing in its entirety - the music, the narrative, Laurie's sincere love for a form of music that, like all good and enduring music, reflects the people who made it, long after they have gone!

Watch it! :)

"Let Them Talk" is available on YouTube.