Tom Jones turns to roots, religion tom Jones
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’