Long Live Tom Jones – Long Live the King – Tom Jones is a King. He’s a force of nature like a flood or a hurricane. If you could splice the DNA of Sinatra together with Elvis, Tom Jones would be the result.TJ’s musical career spans a few decades and a lot of material. It would be easier and shorter to list the musical styles he hasn’t mastered – Hmm… maybe opera? Tom’s new album, Praise & Blame, is filled with the rootsy, bluesy rock and roll material that he was meant to sing. Oh, throw in a heavy undercurrent of gospel, and this music runs soul deep. I’ve discussed in this column before that there are only two distinct kinds of music, ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ but what about a Welshman singing Black American music? Has he paid his dues enough to sing the Blues? Muddy Waters would have told you, and B. B. King can still tell you, that if you’ve lived it and you feel it, you become the blues and they become you. Everybody’s got em’, some people just sing em’ better. So has Tom still got it? Can he still deliver the mail/male? No-brainer here – Yes! What Praise & Blame really reminds me of is a dark, smoky little bar where the Saturday night band that plays the deepest, most soulful, down-home blues late into the early morning turns into the church band and choir after a little coffee and a shave. Come Sunday, there’s not a 7th or 9th note in earshot but the power of the Gospel makes the church windows bow in and out in time to the music.
The more perceptive listeners among you may find that Praise & Blame is not as accessible as a casual listener might like, even I had to spin this one a couple of times before it’s true power and meaning started to assert itself. Tom is in total control vocally here, and everything about this album must be viewed through that lens. The band exists only as a foundation for Tom’s singing and which allows him the freedom to take his time and really pick his shots. When Tom spins a tale as he sings, he really draws you in and forces you to take the time to really hear and understand the lyrics and their meaning. Better musical backup would have been a bonus, but maybe it would have clouded some important lyrical and vocal elements. Try listening to “ Burning Hell” and see what a distorted slide guitar and Tom can do. Follow that up with “ Lord Help” and you’ll be a witness to the Saturday night gospel, blues-rock I’m talking about. Testify Brothers and Sisters! Don’t knock, just walk right in, ‘cause there’s strange things happening every day – Just follow your ears. Rock Bottom Line: A surprising and strangely satisfying musical outing by a master vocalist still very much in command of his instrument and talent. CWG Rating 3.5 Guns
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