Tom Jones turns to roots, re­li­gion tom Jones

Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN360BETS - — Pa­trick Cald­well

On ‘Praise & Blame,’ Tom Jones en­lists Booker T. Jones and Gillian Welch to help him with emo­tive and crafty cov­ers of gospel and blues songs. ‘Praise & Blame’ (Mer­cury Nashville) Grade: B+

“Praise & Blame” sees cel­e­brated crooner Tom Jones ditch glitz, glam­our and the trade­mark sex­u­al­ity that saw him the re­cip­i­ent of count­less thrown panties in his Ve­gas hey­day in fa­vor of fire and brim­stone, grit and growls. 2008’s “24 Hours” show­cased Jones at his vin­tage best, all elab­o­rate ar­range­ments and blus­ter­ing blueeyed soul, but “Praise & Blame” swings the pen­du­lum in the other di­rec­tion, with a mix of gospel, blues and tra­di­tional cov­ers, recorded live with an im­pres­sive range of play­ers in­clud­ing Booker T. Jones and Gillian Welch. In other words, it’s Tom Jones’ equiv­a­lent to Johnny Cash’s “Amer­i­can Record­ings” — lean at 38 min­utes, con­stantly emo­tive and im­pec­ca­bly crafty in its se­lec­tion of cov­ers, each tai­lor-made for Jones’ still-ex­plo­sive belt.

It be­gins qui­etly, with a sub­tle, un­der­stated take on Bob Dylan’s “What Good Am I,” which finds Jones in an un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally raspy, throaty fashion — a more down-to-earth ap­proach that suits the song. But “Praise & Blame” doesn’t truly start to bounce un­til Jesse Mae Hem­phill’s “Lord Help the Poor and Needy,” one of those straight-from-the-soul tra­di­tional songs that Jones fields with aplomb, sound­ing con­spic­u­ously like a tried-and-true south­erner for a man born just out­side of Cardiff, Wales. The rest of the al­bum switches it up skill­fully be­tween scorchers like a storm­ing take on John Lee Hooker’s blues clas­sic “Burn­ing Hell” and qui­eter out­ings, in­clud­ing an af­fect­ing ren­di­tion of Billy Joe Shaver’s “If I Give My Soul.”

And Jones is wise to steer clear of ob­vi­ous choices — no “Amaz­ing Grace” here, thank­fully. Even his choice to close out on “Run On” — fea­tured very promi­nently, un­der its other ti­tle “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” on Cash’s “Amer­i­can V: A Hun­dred High­ways” — suc­ceeds by turn­ing away from the grim stomps of Cash’s ver­sion in fa­vor of an up-tempo ren­der­ing that swag­gers con­fi­dently.

Also out this week: Avenged Sev­en­fold, ‘Night­mare’; the Robert Cray Band, ‘Cookin’ in Mem­phis’; Cut Chemist, ‘Sound of the Po­lice’; Dru Hill, ‘InDRUpen­dence Day’; Fat Joe, ‘The Dark Side’; Mark Olson, ‘Many Col­ored Kite’; Sky Sail­ing, ‘An Air­plane Car­ried Me to Bed’

Joel Ryan

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