I heard Laurie's album playing in Tesco this afternoon and loved it but was hesitant about buying it, purely because of what I call the 'crossover curse'. Sinatra was a good singer, horrific actor. The same can be said of many actors, singers etc. who attempt to cross over into something different. Only very few have managed the feat credibly and in my opinion, Laurie has managed it. In his favour, he clearly knows his voice very well and knows that in some ways, it's very limited but in blues, that doesn't really matter. Solomon Burke was not really a great singer, but blues music needs a bit of rough around the edges charm to be really good and it's fortunate that Laurie has that in abundance. It's also to his credit that on songs that need a 'good' singer, Laurie defers to someone else who is much better suited to the task - Tom Jones being one such instance.
The album won't suit some people's tastes, particularly those buying the album purely because it was made by Hugh Laurie of House fame. For me, I love the album because of the instrumental performances first and Laurie's voice second. Listening to the album it is clear that you're being taken to the New Orleans music soaked atmosphere and those who appreciate that type of music will love it. It's sincere and mixes joy and pain together very well whilst maintaining an air of sophistication possessed by someone who really does love the music he's performing - and no one can deny that Laurie is very talented, particularly on piano and guitar. Yes, the vocals are rough, but if they were polished and perfect I think that the album would be somehow be lacking, blues needs that feel of being performed after a heavy night of drinking in order to work properly.
I've read one review elsewhere that objected to Laurie's use of an American accent when singing, but really this strikes me as a bit of a nonsensical argument because there is no way that you can take a genre of music so quintessentially American and then sing it with an British accent. It would be like Lily Allen singing without the cockney accent - it wouldn't work. Similarly, some have raised eyebrows at an Englishman attempting blues classics, but to them I say that music is the one thing in life, or one of them anyway, that should be genderless, colourless and geographically free. There's no harm in trying something, and as a listener, I am able to choose my preferred option. For example, I really love Protocol Harlem's A Whiter Shade of Pale but consider Annie Lennox's version as an inferior version. Cat Power's version of Sea of Love is amazing and I prefer it to Phil Phillips and the Twilights' version. Good music done badly just makes you want the better version, whilst good music done well, as Laurie does it, just makes you appreciate it more.
In summary, I'm pleasantly surprised by Hugh Laurie's album. It's instrumentally fantastic and his vocal ability, whilst not up there with the greats, adds a great deal of warmth and sincerity to the material. What shines through for me is that he really appreciates the music and in my opinion, there's a great many singers on the charts today who, although technically better singers, could take a leaf out of Hugh Laurie's book and learn to love music as opposed to using it as a money making venture.