Tom Jones: 'Praise & Blame' 4* The Arizona Republic Review

An album of deeply felt spiritual music from the face that launched a thousand panties? The man who once titled an album "The Lead and How to Swing It?" That Tom Jones? Well, yeah. And it's actually kind of flawless, setting the tone with a haunted rendition of Bob Dylan's poignant "What Good Am I?," where, backed by thundering floor toms and plenty of atmosphere, he calls himself out on his personal shortcomings. Billy Joe Shaver's soulful, self-incriminating country ballad, "If I Give My Soul" is just as heartfelt. And "Ain't No Grave" sounds more defiant here than when an ailing Johnny Cash recorded it. In fact, what's most surprising is how frequently - and raucously - this album tears it up. The second track "Lord Help" is a swaggering blues-rock treasure. John Lee Hooker's "Burning Hell" rocks even harder, channeling Led Zeppelin's blue explosion with plenty of grit in the vocal department from Jones (whose voice, it should be noted, is a good three octaves lower than those Zeppelin records). And Sister Rosetta Tharpe's rollicking "Strange Things" sounds like it could blow the top off a revival tent. Despite the rocking, "Praise & Blame" is exactly the sort of album artists tend to turn to as the prospects of their own mortality start creeping up on them. And Jones, who recently turned 70, has done a more compelling job than most - thanks in part to Ethan Johns (of Kings of Leon fame), whose less-is-more production here can't help but echo Cash's late-period work with producer Rick Rubin. That Jones holds up to those comparisons says all you need to know about the artistry this often underrated vocal presence brings to the proceedings.

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