Music

Tom Jones: Praise & Blame

At 70 years old, Tom Jones surprises everyone by trading the Vegas glitz for a different kind of heat, and he's never sounded better.


Tom Jones

Praise & Blame

US Release: 2010-07-27
UK Release: 2010-07-26
Label: Island/Mercury
Amazon
iTunes

It's easy to throw Tom Jones onto the pile of senior-citizen music legends who hook up with a hotshot producer for a rustic, back-to-basics record, shaving off enough schlocky gloss to inspire a new hipster resurgence. This is the Cash-Rubin Principle of the last 15 years or so. Rick Rubin also got his hands on Neil Diamond's knobs, Jack White resurrected Loretta Lynn, Ryan Adams took on Willie Nelson, Don Was dusted off Kris Kristofferson, T-Bone Burnett helped give Robert Plant his biggest hit in years, etc. Tom Jones has now gotten a similar treatment on the new Praise and Blame, courtesy of Kings of Leon producer Ethan Johns.

Unlike those other legends, however, Tom Jones has, before any attempt at a rugged reinvention, remained biscuit-hot in recent years, especially in the UK, where he has scored four Top Ten singles in the '00s. Ever since covering Prince's “Kiss” in 1988, the Welsh belter has been a genuine contender with artists half his age (or younger). 1999's Reload alone had five Top Ten singles, and Jones took last year's cover of “Islands in the Stream” all the way to the top of the UK charts. All the while, Jones has continued to live up to his legendary Vegas persona, holding down a hotter-than-ever residency at the MGM Grand.

Sir Tom has let his frizzly hair and goatee go gray in the last couple of years (good move), but at age 70, he is, remarkably, still in prime stud-bucket form, both in the giant blast of his voice and the erotic force of his live performances. In January on stage at the MGM Grand, Jones didn't just move well for a 70-year-old; he moved well for anyone -- still swinging an air-humping gallop like he was the Lone Biker of the Sexual Apocalypse. He had folks pinned to the backs of their rounded plush booths by hitting the high note at the end of “Thunderball”, and by the time he got to “Delilah” the panties were, in a time-honored tradition, flying on stage. (In fact, the 20-something girl with the laminate pass seated beside me was able to tell me Jones's birthday.)

So, with Jones still kicking dance-floor arse, it might not seem perfectly logical for him to dial it down to a grizzled gospel project like Praise and Blame. At least that's what Island vice-president David Sharpe thought, who called the record a “sick joke” and demanded that it be recalled before its release. Chalk it up to another ass-headed, foot-shooting, record exec know-nothing. Praise and Blame is a triumph -- a searing, immediate, brilliantly sung record that lays waste to these eleven semi-obscure songs of faith. Jones has done stripped-down before, as on the quasi-country hit “Green, Green Grass of Home” back in the '60s, but he's never been this raw, and it's a refreshing sound that fits him like extra-tight trousers.

The record opens with a plaintive reading of Bob Dylan's “What Good Am I” (a gem mined from Oh Mercy), and the song's slow pulse, heavy self-questioning, and Jones's guttural whisper announce from the get-go that this is a dramatic departure. The molten counterpoint is “Lord Help”, with Jones is full voice, bellowing an invocation for a broken world, backed by a buzzing guitar riff. So goes the record, toggling between shivery meditations, like the stately banjo-backed “Did Trouble Me”, to scrappy gospel-rock rave-ups like “Strange Things”.

The album works due to the visceral, glitz-free crackle of the live-band arrangements, but also to the song choices that explore a range of spiritual yearnings. At times, the record gets decidedly Jesus-y, and if that turns you off, Jones doesn't sound too sure at times either, often singing from the point of view of a man in search of redemption and scared shitless that it's never coming. One of the records's high-water marks comes with a ferocious cover of John Lee Hooker's “Burning Hell”, which supposes that “maybe there ain't no heaven, no burnin' hell”, and Jones delivers the lines like a howling lost soul.

Deeper in, the record gets to more familiar material, including a watery version of “Nobody's Fault But Mine” and the ghostly country bristle of “Ain't No Grave”. Willie Nelson covered the former on this year's T-Bone Burnett-produced Country Music, and the latter is the title song from this year's final installment of Johnny Cash's Rick Rubin-produced American series, so a circle of influence seems to exist among these projects. Tom Jones the septuagenarian has amassed a fortune as a Sin City showstopper, but like Willie and Cash, Jones has demonstrated with a new album that it's never too late in the game to take an inspiring artistic step forward.

8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image