Praise and Blame

Tom Jones talks blues, roots music and latest album, Spirit In The Room with Music Radar

"Tennessee Ernie Ford doing Catfish Boogie... records like that were the start of rock 'n' roll" Tom Jones talks blues, roots music and his new album, Spirit In The Room “The album reminds me of all the stuff I listened to when I was growing up in Wales," says Tom Jones of Spirit In The Room. It's the veteran singer's second collaboration with producer Ethan Johns, and like their first effort together, 2010's Praise & Blame, the gritty, stripped-down production is light years away from the big and brassy Las Vegas orchestra trappings that attended much of Jones' late '60s and '70s work.

"The music I listened to early on was on the BBC," says Jones. "There was big band music and pop, but occasionally we would hear a more raw sound, and those were the blues records, the gospel records and some country things, too. Tennessee Ernie Ford doing Catfish Boogie and Blackberry Boogie – to me, records like that were the start of rock ‘n’ roll. That stuff caught my ear."

Jones and multi-instrumentalist Johns (the latter is the son of noted producer Glyn Johns) assembled a tight band of musicians (Richard Causon on piano and vintage keyboards, Ian Jennings and Sam Dixon on bass, and drummer Stella Mozgawa) and recorded songs in a loose, leisurely fashion at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios in Bath, England. "The whole thing was quite different from how we used to make records," says Jones. "We used to do three songs in three hours, with everything prepared beforehand. With Ethan, we went in and recorded from scratch – it was very free and open. And Ethan is a player, too, so I was talking to one of the people who would be making the music."

The songs, a haunting, soul-enlivening blend of Americana and blues-tinged covers by such names as Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Blind Willie Johnson, Paul McCartney, Odetta, Paul Simon, Richard Thompson and Tom Waits, among others, (along with the Jones/Johns-penned Travelin' Shoes, based on an original by Vera Hall-Ward) were picked by artist and producer with an eye towards, as Jones puts it, "getting down to the nitty-gritty. You can do that with roots music – there's nothing artificial in it."

Jones' minimalist, unvarnished approach to recording with Johns has been compared to Johnny Cash's late-period work with Rick Rubin, and the singer acknowledges the similarities. "With Johnny Cash, God bless him, he was doing that near the end of his life," says Jones. "The way that they made those records is sort of along the same lines. I think the beauty in what Johnny and Rick Rubin did is that, once you take the bare-bones approach, you get into the lyrics of the songs, the essence, without big arrangements trying to sway you. It really suits me."

Spirit In The Room will be released in the US on 23 April (it came out in the UK last year). On the following pages, Jones discusses the selection and recording process of seven of the album's 13 cuts.

1 Tower Of Song - Originally recorded by Leonard Cohen

“I love Leonard Cohen; he’s an incredible writer. With this song, I connected with it as I would with anything when I hear it and say, ‘Hey, that could be me.’ I’m singing about myself, my experiences, what I feel. That’s what I thought when I heard Tower Of Song. ‘My friends are gone and my hair is gray.’ Well, that’s true: Most of the friends I grew up with are dead, and my hair is gray. Those words really hit home.

“When we recorded our version, Ethan said, 'I want to get this as live as possible.' The microphone was wide open; it wasn’t a directional mic. There’s a great room sound, very ambient, as if you’re walking in on a band rehearsing.

“Of course, you get a good sound when you’re at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios. We did both this album and Praise & Blame there. A very natural-sounding room.”

2 (I Want To) Come Home - Originally recorded by Paul McCartney

“I know Paul, and I’ve asked him over the years to write me a song. He’s tried it – he sent me one, but I was recording with Wyclef Jean, and the song he wrote me didn’t fit in with what we were doing. But I’ve always wanted something by Paul McCartney.

“Actually, here’s a story: When he wrote The Long And Winding Road, he gave it to me. I was talking with him one night in London way back, and I said, ‘I’d love for you to write me something, Paul,’ and he said, ‘I will.’ But what happened was, we had a record coming out, and I couldn’t stop it. Paul wanted me to do The Long And Winding Road, but he wanted it to be my next single. So we just couldn’t do it.

“From then, any time I see Paul, I always ask him about a song. Ethan heard this one, and he loved it. Everything that Paul has done is so popular, but this song, which was in a movie, wasn’t that well known.

“I listened to it, and I said, ‘That’s fantastic.’ Again, it applies to me. It could be me, my life. The production is minimal, and it works very well with what we wanted to do with it."

3 Dimming Of The Day - Originally recorded by Richard Thompson

“I’ve sung Richard Thompson songs before; I’ve always thought that he was a powerful writer. When we were getting ready to do this album, I definitely wanted to see what else of his might work. A few other people have recorded Dimming Of The Day, so I listened to what they did to see if I could take it somewhere else, which I think I did.

“We put a very simple beat to it, a natural style of production. The key to this song, and this whole album, is that you don’t want to over-arrange. That gets in the way of the song, gets in the way of what I’m trying to put across. For me to deliver a song like this well, it’s got to sound like I wrote it myself. Getting the right production can make a big difference.”

4 Traveling Shoes - Written by Tom Jones and Ethan Jones, based on Traveling Shoes by Vera Hall Ward

“Ethan and I were listening to some old blues songs, and I said, ‘Why don’t we elaborate on some of these?’ These kinds of songs have been done before, but the trick is to move things around; you take what was originally there in some form and change the pieces here and there. With a lot of blues, it’s hard to even say what the original of something is sometimes. They’ve been done and redone so much, but that’s how they continue to live on.

“I play guitar when I write, if it’s in a certain key. I’m not a great guitar player, but I do enjoy playing, and I know a few keys. Ethan is a far better guitarist than I am, so I let him take over in the recording."

5 Love And Blessings - Originally recorded by Paul Simon

“I know Paul. I’ve listened to a lot of his songs, and I knew that I wanted to do something that he wrote. He’s such a beautiful writer. Ethan played this one for me and asked me what I thought, and I said, ‘I love it.’

“We did it in the same rhythmic pattern as Paul, but we changed it quite a bit in the middle section – he had himself singing with the background vocals. Ethan played a real rock guitar, quite bluesy, which sounds incredible.

“I’m a big guitar fan, especially when it comes to the blues. Ethan is a great blues player. He’s got a bloody wall full of guitars. What's great about him is, you can talk to him about your ideas on how the guitar should go, and he gets it. He’ll try things out until you say, ‘That’s it. That sounds good to me.’”

6 Charlie Darwin - Originally recorded by The Low Anthem

“It’s a message song, but it's not morbid. It’s telling you about the world and the kinds of things that Charles Darwin was warning us about. I’m a historian – I love history – and when I heard the part about the Mayflower coming across, I could see it. These desperate people looking for a better world... It struck a chord in me.

“When I did it, it sounded so real. There’s a big piece in the song – it happens twice – and I said, ‘I hear English church singers in these parts.’ It’s not a gospel choir; it’s an English church choir. So that’s what we did – we went to a church and recorded a choir singing those parts. I had that sound in my mind, and I’m so pleased that we got it across. We kept the song, but we brought it somewhere new.”

7 When The Deal Goes Down - Originally recorded by Bob Dylan

“To me, it had the feeling of an old music hall song. That’s how I heard it. It reminded me of what I used to hear in pubs when I was growing up in Wales. The people would sing songs that were much older than them, things from the First World War and even before that. It had a structure as if it was from a very different time.

“That’s the sound we tried to get. We did it with a old pipe organ – you have to pump it with your feet as you play. That’s Richard Causon playing it, and he sounds incredible.

“I’ve never met Bob Dylan. For some reason, we’ve never been in the same place at the same time. I’ve always been a fan. He’s one of the best lyricists who ever lived. It’s never flowery with Bob Dylan – he says just what he means. On the Praise & Blame album, I did What Good Am I?, which he wrote. You can take a Dylan song and do it your own way, because the way Bob records, he does it very sparse. God bless him.”

By Joe Bosso March 27, 2013

To read the full review at click here

BBC Radio 2 Live In Hyde Park

51-v1AbOBnL._SL500_AA300_For anyone who wasn't lucky enough to see Tom in Hyde Park on Sunday, you can watch the entire set here!

Friday 21st September - BBC4 - A Tom Jones Takeover

51-v1AbOBnL._SL500_AA300_On Friday 21st September Tom takes over BBC4 with an evening of superb music.Starting at 9pm with a repeat of the critically acclaimed, 'Imagine: Tom Jones - What Good Am I?', where Alan Yentob meets Tom in the midst of the release of 'Praise & Blame'. With contributions by fellow entertainers including Jools Holland, Sandie Shaw, Robbie Williams, Cerys Matthews and Kelly Jones.

Following that at 10pm is the hugely anticipated 'BBC4 Sessions' recorded at the LSO St. Luke's in London a couple of weeks ago. This is a session not to be missed - a session of folk, country, gospel and blues that have dominated Tom's last two albums. There’ll be a rehearsal-room vibe as Tom performs with a band led by his record producer, Ethan Johns. [...]

Spirit In The Room: A Guardian Review

51-v1AbOBnL._SL500_AA300_Full marks for nerve to Tom Jones for opening his second successive album of stripped-down gravitas rock with Leonard Cohen's Tower of Song, transformed from hotel-bar funk into a finger-picked country blues. Cohen's version is a mordant, blackly comic meditation, but Jones can't play lines about "born with the gift of a golden voice" for laughs and so he turns it, unexpectedly and triumphantly, into a eulogy for a life in music. [...]

3 Great Spirit In The Room Reviews

51-v1AbOBnL._SL500_AA300_ Read 3 great reviews of 'Spirit In The Room' from NME, Time Out and Woman's Weekly Magazine [...]

New AA Sided Single - 'Hit Or Miss' / 'Bad As Me'

51-v1AbOBnL._SL500_AA300_Tom follows the announcement of the May release of his eagerly awaited new album ‘Spirit In The Room’ with news of a new AA sided single ‘Hit Or Miss’/‘Bad As Me’ on 14th May through Island Records. Hit Or Miss will be available to download from I tunes on Saturday 28th April ahead of the May 14th Impact date. [...]

Tom to Headline BluesFest 2012

51-v1AbOBnL._SL500_AA300_Following the runaway success of BluesFest 2011, which saw more than 16000 music fans attend concerts by some of the biggest names in blues, jazz and soul, the festival returns to the UK this summer for a 10 day celebration of incredible music.On Sunday 1st July Tom Jones will be revisiting his 2010’s acclaimed gospel and blues set Praise & Blame as well as showcasing exclusive material from his forthcoming new album.

Congratulations to Ethan Johns for Winning the MPG Producer of the Year Award!!

51-v1AbOBnL._SL500_AA300_The annual Music Producers Guild Awards took place at the Café de Paris in London on Thursday [16th February]. The Awards celebrate the creative talent and technical ability of the UK's music producers, engineers, mixers and re-mixers. And it is with great pleasure for us to announce the top award for Producer of the Year – which also earned its winner a BRIT Award for Best Producer – went to no other than Tom's 'Praise & Blame' Producer, Ethan Johns!!

Return of the Mack: Tom Jones dazzles at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater

You'd be hard pressed to find an entertainer who better defines the term "superstar" than Tom Jones. The Welsh-born singer rose to fame in the mid-1960's and racked up a string of hit singles, starred in his own variety show and gained the admiration of millions of overzealous female fans who showed their affections by launching their undergarments at him during live performances. Fast forward several decades and you'll still find Jones every bit the dazzling entertainer. Jones has retained a large core audience that has faithfully followed him through changing trends and styles as evidenced from the eager crowd awaiting his taking the stage last Friday at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater.

One of the loudest and rowdiest roars I've heard from an awaiting audience in a long time was steadily belted from the plush seats until Jones took the stage at 8:15 p.m. No need for an opening act; the crowd was here for one reason only: to be treated to the timeless, sexy, soulful voice that Tom Jones has entranced his fans with for years.

Clad in bright purple silk shirt, shiny black blazer and black slacks, Jones slowly emerged amid a sea of sultry red lights. A guitarist preceded Tom's entrance and filled the hall with some tasty, nasty slide guitar blues giving the feel of a seedy blues club rather than a pristine performance hall. Jones quickly launched into "Burning Hell," a cut from his newest album, the excellent gospel-blues tinged Praise and Blame. In fine voice, the 70-year-old Jones boldly opened with this relatively unknown selection from a current work rather than relying on a tried and true nugget from his vast career. Pretty ballsy move, without a doubt. But, in actuality, it set the tone for the bold course Jones opted to trudge all night long.

The evening's set was filled with constant surprises and jaw-droppers. Sure, we were treated to classics like "Green Green Grass of Home" and a savory, Mariachi-styled version of "Delilah." But Tom seemed to really soar when delivering his versions of some pretty unpredictable covers ranging from Little Feat's "Dixie Chicken" to "Hey Pocky Way" by the New Orleans-based party band The Meters.

Showing no signs of slowing (ok, so Tom doesn't swivel his hips as ferociously as he used to), Jones proved for nearly two hours that he is still as entertaining and charismatic as ever. Jones was, after all, the one entertainer who Elvis Presley admittedly feared; supposedly, Elvis was always worried that Jones would surpass him in terms of popularity and stardom, and that he'd eventually steal all his fans away from him. At this, my first ever Tom Jones concert, it's easy to understand Presley's anxieties. As if it weren't enough of a threat that the man can sing, select hip material to cover AND whip an adoring crowd into a frenzy, he was also born with the gift of the gab. Almost as enchanting as the performance itself, Jones playfully told several engaging stories and anecdotes that found him name-dropping artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Ry Cooder, Bob Dylan and Elvis.

The funniest moment came when Jones was chiding a female audience member with a thick New York accent who repeatedly crowed, "Take your jacket off!!" Jones didn't miss a beat and fired back with witty quips of his own: "Don't worry ... before the night is over, EVERYTHING is coming off!" he flaunted. It was obvious by crowd's reaction to that comment that many of the females approved.

For nearly two hours sans intermission, the veteran superstar and consummate entertainer wielded his carefully honed skills and showed us why he's still so highly revered. Still taking chances and not relying on past glories, it's obvious that Tom Jones is more interested in remaining vital and taking chances than being reduced to a corny nostalgia act.

Jones seemed as comfortable belting his signature song "It's Not Unusual" as he did his fine cover of Prince's coy "Kiss" (complete with a fantastic intro of Prince's naughtier "Sexy MF").

Tom Jones is without a doubt one of the greatest performers of all time. Geared and primed in an age that didn't have to rely on flashy gimmicks, costumes or shock value, Tom Jones was (and still is) the true definition of a star. And the near-capacity crowd that were jammed into Ruth Eckerd Hall last Friday night have known that for a long, long time.

Complete Setlist:

Burning Hell Run On Let’s Have A Ball I’ll Never Fall in Love Again Strange Things Dixie Chicken Green, Green Grass of Home Detroit City Delilah St. James Infirmary Blues What Good Am I? Nobody’s Fault But Mine Don’t Knock Didn’t It Rain Mama Told Me Not to Come You Can Leave Your Hat On If I Give My Soul It’s Not Unusual Encore Kiss Hey Pocky Way

By Gabe Echazabal for Creative Loafting. Click here to read full article

Gig Review: Tom Jones at Celtic Connections


IT'S Blue Monday, scientifically calculated to be the most depressing day of the year, but Tom Jones is in town to cheer us all up with a swivel of the hips and his lusty, mischief-making holler. Right?

Not exactly. Tom Jones has got The Blues and he's spreading them around the pristine environs of the Concert Hall, in a righteous coup for Celtic Connections. While the festival regularly attracts folk heavyweights and world music superstars, this concert felt different, even bizarrely exotic. Jones the Voice has been booked to perform his latest album, Praise & Blame, a comparatively sober interpretation of gospel, blues and country standards which, he informed the crowd, was all Elvis Presley's idea in the first place.

Uncharacteristically for a Jones show, the atmosphere was muted as he took the stage, but his funereal version of Dylan's What Good Am I? hardly invited wild participation. And it would be plain inappropriate to throw undergarments at a man contemplating the very core of his being.

After this sombre opening, Jones let rip on the meaty blues strut of Lord Help. He got gruff and grizzly on the low-slung Nobody's Fault But Mine and hit the depths of his vocal range on Burning Hell, accompanied by some blistering guitar work. On the side of the angels, he summoned a testifying spirit on Strange Things, displayed celebratory gospel gumption on Pops Staples' Don't Knock and rocked the rhythm of a revival meeting on Didn't It Rain.

The country confessional If I Give My Soul sounded like something he might have cut back in the 60s, along with his encore of Green, Green Grass Of Home. But in rounding off with the unabashed cheese of It's Not Unusual it felt like Jones was throwing the fans a bone rather than keeping the courage of his convictions.

By Fiona Shepherd

Picture: Robert Perry

Click here to read the review at The Scotsman

Praise & Blame Tops Albums of 2010


In 2010 we saw the release of 'Praise & Blame' which contributed to a great year in the Tom Jones camp.

Continuing the critical acclaim throughout the year we are delighted to be featured in some "Reviews of the Year".

After our post on reaching Number 5 in the LA Times writers top 10, we thought we would share some more with you.

Jeff Spevak at the Democrat and Chronicle, chose 'Praise & Blame' as his number 1 album of the  year.

Jeff says: "The No. 1 album surfaces not out of the urgency of the word, but because, whenever I put on the CD, guests would invariably ask, "What is this?" This is Tom Jones — with the record of his life.....When I last saw Tom Jones singing live, in 2006, one of the highlights was a bluesy take on the old traditional, "St. James Infirmary." He's continued that deep musical journey here with songs celebrating the roots of American music. There's no "What's New, Pussycat" kitsch. His aching, restrained take on Dylan's "What Good Am I?" is followed by a soul-rocking version of Jessie Mae Hemphill's "Lord, Help the Poor and Needy." At 70, Jones' voice still rises to the occasion, booming its way through the gospel of Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Strange Things," while he and the guitars are a gritty match on John Lee Hooker's "Burning Hell." And Billy Joe Shaver's "If I Give My Soul" will shake you up. All I can say is, wow ... good work." Click here to read the full article

St. Cloud Times reviewer Karl Leslie, rates Praise & Blame at number 5 in his top ten.

Karl says: "Tom Jones, “Praise & Blame:” Yes. Tom Jones. After duping you with a melancholy cover of Dylan’s “What Good Am I?,” Jones proceeds to lay down the R&B comeback album of the year." Click here to read the full article

And at The Dallas Morning NewsMario Tarradells rates Praise & Blame at number 9 in his top ten albums of 2010.

Mario says: "From the opening note, Jones' robust voice rattles the bones. It's like you've never heard him, singing gospel, blues and rockabilly tunes with so much power and zest that he probably peeled the paint right off the recording-studio walls." Click here to read the full article