Tom Jones Live
One Mayfair, London
The Welsh knight of the realm launched his new album last night in an ornate Central London church. The intimate surroundings proved the perfect match to the rustic charms of the songs from ‘Praise And Blame’, which sees Sir Tom embrace his musical heritage and once again reinvent himself as an artist.
The pairing of Jones and producer Ethan Johns, whose previous credits include Kings Of Leon and Ryan Adams, heralded suggestions that Jones was taking influence from the seminal American recordings by Johnny Cash with Rick Rubin. Indeed, the bluesy acoustic feel of ‘Praise And Blame’, a collection of cover versions, is a genuine statement of intent from two serious musicologists who know what they like and know how to interpret it.
Tonight, eight of the album’s eleven tracks are played live for the first time - evident from Tom’s lyrical mishap in one - and he looks like he firmly believes in and enjoys what he’s doing now, passionately rendering these vintage tracks into his own style.
The expected sight of a perma-tanned crooner with an unnaturally jet-black do is confounded with the appearance of The Man In White - a silver haired (and bearded) gent with a white suit, looking every bit comfortable in his years, and debonair with it.
First up, ‘What Good Am I?’, the album opener and lead single, is miles away from its Bob Dylan original, and is a suitably spiritual introduction to tonight’s proceedings. Picking up the pace, John Lee Hooker’s ‘Burning Hell’ becomes a glimpse of what Jack White should aspire to when he is knocking seventy. The gospel influence of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s ‘Strange Things’ spreads into the invited crowd, whose call and response echoes and threatens to drown out the backing singers.
Known as a consummate showman and one-time contemporary of Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll, Tom Jones was hugely endearing during ‘Did Trouble Me’, a slow and poignant gospel hymn, when he missed his cue, and had to call for a prompt from side of stage.
As an insight into the musical loves of Sir Tom Jones, ‘Praise And Blame’ is further proof that while rock and roll may be a young man’s game, those who have been there and done that know to dig deeper to find brighter jewels. After the twilight success of Johnny Cash, not to mention the recent Grammy glories for Robert Plant with Alison Krauss, this new direction looks set to propel Jones into his sixth decade of triumph.