Tom Jones' latest once again finds Ethan Johns behind the boards with a new stash of standards ripe for interpretation.
Few artists can claim to have spanned as much musical terrain as Tom Jones. Born in humble circumstances to a poor Welsh mining family, he became a teen sensation in the mid-‘60s, an unabashed crooner whose ponytail bedecked image and unapologetic sex appeal reaped several early hits, among them, “What’s New Pussycat", "Delilah", "Green, Green Grass of Home", and "She's a Lady", prime examples of the three dozen or so chart toppers that helped establish him as an international star. An Order of the British Empire and knighthood from Queen Elizabeth, as well as a Grammy for Best New Artist of 1966, an MTV Video Music Award in 1989 and a pair of Brit Awards accorded him in 2000 and 2003 further attest to his outstanding accomplishments.
Jones could have spent the rest of his life working swanky saloons and gaudy Vegas venues, continuing to draw adoring hordes of female admirers who showered him with their undergarments and room keys as part of a nightly ritual that always accompanied his stage shows. To his credit, he opted to evolve, breaking away from the showbiz schtick and moving into other realms where originality and substance gradually took over. At a point he recorded country standards, then dance music (“Kiss" and “Sex Bomb” enabled him to return to the charts), and finally, in the last few years, a headier approach worthy of a distinguished elder statesman.
It’s this latest evolution that has earned Jones renewed respect and justifiably so. A pair of albums (Praise and Blame and Spirit in the Room) overseen by producer Ethan Johns stripped away the silliness and brought a sense of regal reflection, not unlike the gravitas found in Johnny Cash’s final efforts with Rick Rubin. Happily though, at age 75, Jones comes nowhere near the hollow-eyed circumstance and circumspect that Cash settled into in his twilight years. To the contrary, Jones is very much alive and dynamic, still the fun-loving, rough-and-tumble individual that once gave his pal Elvis a run for his money. Remarkably, he’s singing better than ever, with the same passion and prowess that propelled his performances early on.
Evidence of that can be found in his new effort, Long Lost Suitcase, which once again finds Johns behind the boards with a new stash of standards ripe for interpretation. In a sense, the album brings him back to his roots, with songs such as “Elvis Presley Blues”, “Honey Honey”, “I Wish You Would”, and “‘Til My Back Ain’t Got No Bone” underlining the absolute energy and authority that Jones has always instilled in his material, regardless of its origin. Country music plays a part in the mix as well, with Willie Nelson’s remorseful “Opportunity to Cry” starting off the set on a surprisingly subdued note and “Factory Girl”, a traditional blues repurposed by the Rolling Stones, adding authenticity to Jones’ soulful stance.
A forthcoming autobiography, Over the Top and Back, also ought to be of interest, but for the moment, this Long Lost Suitcase tells us everything we need to know about his journey.