It’s sobering to realise that Sir Lenworth George Henry has been a fixture of the UK entertainment scene for 40 years now. And how far he has come, from his breakthrough turns on New Faces and Tiswas to his co-founding of charity Comic Relief, up to his recent lauded theatre performances as Othello. His career may have widened and deepened over the years, but music’s always been near his heart.
New Millennium Blues was conceived during filming for Lenny Henry’s Got The Blues, his Sky Arts documentary about the genre. Backed by a tight band, here he gives solid reads on seven well- worn standards – Willie Dixon’s Hoochie Coochie Man, Little Walter’s You’re So Fine and Jimmy Reed’s Shame Shame Shame among them.
Limp title track aside, it’s the five original songs – co-written by his brilliant guitarist, King Crimson’s Jakko Jakszyk – that are of most interest. If That’s Not Good Enough recounts a road trip across the States – and blues history itself – in the company of a reluctant daughter. The Cops Don’t Know has a strong enough musical back to carry its heavy subject (young black men dying at the hands of US police), while Daughter Of A Preacher Man is a neat little reversal of Dusty’s timeless soul classic.
Given Henry’s comedic past, it can be tricky to take him completely seriously. But that’s on us, and there’s no doubting his own passion and commitment here. Another renaissance man, Hugh Laurie, has recently that shown comic actors can make the switch to ‘real’ musicians, and this brave album is further proof it can be done.