The 73-year-old proves his pipes are perfect for soul music at the Troubadour WEST HOLLYWOOD – Inside Tom Jones is a great soul singer; it just took him 70 years to come out. Jones’ most recent albums, 2010’s “Praise & Blame” and his new set, “Spirit in the Room,” cover vintage and contemporary gospel, blues, soul and rock tunes. It was from this meaty menu that he drew inspiration for his May 11 show at the Troubadour, his first of two sold-out nights at the 400-capacity club.
Jones opened the 105-minute concert with “Tower of Song,” the Leonard Cohen tale of a singer whose “hair is grey,” and in possession of “a golden voice,” both of which describe the legendary Welsh singer to perfection. With spare, largely acoustic instrumentation provided by a four-piece, the emphasis was on Jones’ rich voice, which remains remarkably steady and strong and has added a grizzled bottom end that gives it only more appeal. Less confident singers often pull back from the microphone when it comes to hitting a high note or sustaining it, but time and time again, Jones leaned into the microphone when such challenges arose and met them successfully.
The recent material deals primarily with such heavy matters as saving one’s soul (or not) and redemption (after repeated falls from grace) from the primeval stomp of John Lee Hooker’s “Burning Hell” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “The Soul of a Man” to Tom Waits’ delightfully sinister “Bad as Me.” Jones often seemed to conjure up the lyrics from some dark, deep place in his own being, double fisting the microphone, holding one hand on the stand, with the other on the mic, his eyes closed as he softly swayed during some of the swampier songs.
He dispensed with the microphone stand for many of the faster numbers, often feigning boxing moves during Doug Lancio’s lacerating guitar solos. Jones’ hip-swiveling days may be behind him, but his still-swaggering sex appeal poured off him like the sweat running down his face in the steamy, packed venue. His removal of his jacket halfway through the performance was greeted with cheers and a man shouting out, “Looking good, Tommy!” He replied, “Not bad for an old fella,” before proudly confessing he was approaching his 73rd birthday. “June 7, 1940. I was born during the Battle of Britain,” he said, as his arrival during that explosive event somehow explained his magical success.
The stripped-down weightiness of the material didn’t lend itself to Jones hopping in the time machine to travel back to his lighter, glossy '60s fare, such as “What’s New, Pussycat” or “Delilah,” despite cries from the audience for the frothy classics, but Jones did throw in his 1966 hit “Green, Green Grass of Home,” written by Curly Putman. Earlier in the evening, he also referenced Putman as he paid homage “to another Jones,” the late George Jones, by singing the country classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” co-written by Putman and Bobby Braddock. His touching tribute may have had more power than the Possum’s original, but couldn’t match the poignancy. He fared better when he saluted his old friend Elvis Presley with a sexy, virile “One Night With You,” which was, he claimed, first titled “One Night of Sin,” but, “in those days, the record company said, ‘No, no, no.’”
Jones capped his three-song encore with Jerry Lee Lewis’ rollicking “End of the Road,” delivering it with the same energy, verve and passion that he possessed at the start of the set. His love for this classic material that he grew up on was abundant, but it felt like there was something deeper at play here: At 72, Jones seems to have found his voice — and his soul — after all these years.
By Melinda Newman Special to MSN Music