Reviewed by Simon Price Even more gothic-looking than usual, the octagonal interior of the Union Chapel is tonight choked by a fog of smoke, the arches behind the pulpit lit a sepulchral shade of blue, switching to a demonic red the very moment Tom Jones takes to the stage. "Beautiful venue," he acknowledges after the opening "What Good Am I?", glancing around the packed pews. "Very fitting for the album ..."
A deconsecrated church? Indeed it is. Praise and Blame is the septuagenarian's back-to-roots foray down the now well-trodden Johnny Cash route: his "Welsh Recordings", if you wish. Consisting of aeons-old gospel, folk and blues songs by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Bob Dylan, Billy Joe Shaver and the ever-prolific "Trad", it's predominantly religious, or at least haunted by angels and demons, pride and guilt. "If you take the praise," he says tonight by way of explanation, "you've got to take the blame. People say 'Tom, he's got a lovely voice ... but he's a bit of a naughty boy.' You see?"
We see. Indeed, the well-documented misdemeanours of Tom Jones – satin-shirted satyr, serial shagger – are part of his appeal: charming the panties off the universal female, and giving her one for us. There's none of that hip-grinding sauce tonight, however, as the increasingly King Neptune-like Jones takes us through Praise and Blame, start to finish. He's on fine form vocally, and he's funny with it, contradicting one heckler by clarifying that the Vocalzone lozenge he pops in his mouth is not Viagra, and name-dropping "my good friend" Elvis Presley before a sweaty-browed rendition of "Run On", the song the pair used to sing in the Vegas years of the early Seventies.
It's impressively raw, tough-arsed, hard-knuckled blues-rock fare. "Nobody's Fault But Mine" would work in a particularly gritty Lynch/Tarantino/Coens scene, and the line "Lord, help the motherless children" in Jessie Mae Hemphill's delta blues standard almost works as a hip-hop cuss.
We sit politely, in anticipation of a hits encore. A publicist tells me that the single most frequently asked question she's fielded all day has been "Is he gonna play 'Sex Bomb'?", but I'd have settled for "Green Green Grass of Home" if he doesn't want to disrespect the surroundings with something so sleazily secular. Instead, we get the happy-clappy "Didn't It Rain" for the second time in one night.
There's been plenty to praise, but if anyone shuffles out of the aisles feeling a little let down, there's only one man to blame.
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