Hugh Laurie – Live on the Queen Mary (2013)

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There is perhaps no more unpredictably weird image than Hugh Laurie — who, from 2004-12, played the Golden Globe-winning title protagonist on TV’s House — weaving his way through Professor Longhair‘s off-kilter funk. And aboard the Queen Mary, no less?

It’s enough to make any fan of Big Easy music more than a little, well, uneasy. After all, that ship was the site, back in 1975, of a legendary party sponsored by Paul McCartney that resulted in the first live album ever from Fess. And it shared the same title, no less. This is sacred ground.

Turns out, though, that Laurie comes to this from the most honest, if utterly surprising, places. The future actor purchased Live on the Queen Mary as a late teen, and became endlessly enchanted by the Afro-Cuban-infused R&B crafted by one Henry Roeland Byrd. Linda McCartney took the photograph that graced the album, and today Laurie has it framed at his home.

Still, it wasn’t until 2011’s Piety Street-recorded album and PBS special, both called Let Them Talk, that the wider public knew about Laurie’s life-long passion for rootsy blues music. He followed that with Didn’t It Rain, before following more closely in the footsteps of his hero. The Queen Mary, no longer seafaring, was moored at Long Beach, California, beginning in 1967, having traveled across the Atlantic some thousands times. It seems almost fated that Laurie — who first began fooling around at the piano as a youngster of 6 — would end up there, as he toured behind Didn’t It Rain, closing a circle that began in the 1970.

Laurie’s own Live on the Queen Mary moves far afield of Fess, taking in sounds and influences that came both before and after from Jelly Roll Morton, Dr. John and the Animals’ Alan Price. But not matter how deep he travels into this thicket of soul-lifting musical goodness, he always seems to circle back around to New Orleans. His commitment, depth of emotion and sheer focus are never more obvious than on tracks like “Junco Partner,” “Staggerlee,” and “Tipitina.”

He plays it like a guy who could have done anything in his spare time but chose to do something he loved. A guy who unsuccessfully lobbied to have this set’s “Go to the Mardi Gras” serve as the theme music for an early sketch-comedy show. A guy so aware of the legacy that he’s sought out producer Allen Toussaint to get things just right, and McCartney to get his blessing for this concert venture.

He plays it, in short, like a brother from another mother.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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