Album Review: Tom Jones – Praise and Blame

By on Wednesday, 14th July 2010 at 2:00 pm
 

Tom Jones‘ latest record, Praise and Blame, has featured in the press a lot over the last few days – just for all the wrong reasons. A leaked email showed Island Record’s vice-president David Sharpe tearing down the album, claiming “Imagine my surprise when I walked into the office this morning to hear hymns – it could have been Sunday morning. My initial pleasure came to an abrupt halt when I realised that Tom Jones was singing the hymns!”. Sharpe went on to ask, “I have just listened to the album in its entirety and want to know if this is some sick joke????”.

Thing is, this email surely only means the joke is on Sharpe – a suited big wig, clearly expecting ‘more of the same’. “Having lured him from EMI, the deal was that you would deliver a record of upbeat tracks along the lines of Sex Bomb and Mama Told Me”, Sharpe protested. Excuse me while I hurl, David. You see, Jones has spent the past few years trying to be said groovy Grandaddy of pop – only making himself somewhat a comedy figure in the music world. His last album, 2008’s ’24 Hours’, was Tom trying to be in the now, working with hip producers attempting to make a hip record. However, with Praise and Blame, the Welsh wonder has at last ditched the hair dye, the pile of underwear on stage and general cheese in order to make a heart and soul of a record which showcases exactly why Jones still deserves to be considered one of our greats.

Those lungs – that’s all Tom needs. Forget the fads and the fuddy-duddy Radio Two pop. When those big, rumbling pipes sound, all ‘Sex Bomb’ novelty can be put aside. The great thing about Praise and Blame is that it’s rawness consequently means it hones in on the brilliance of Tom’s voice. Opener, Bob Dylan cover, ‘What Good Am I?’, for example, is a wonderfully thudding, brooding number whose simple instrumentation is complimented by those effortlessly luring vocals. ‘If I Give My Soul’ – popularised by Johnny Cash, whom which this whole album echoes – is too, powerfully humble, with Jones reciting the story of a tragic life with heartbreaking sincerity, singing “If I give my soul, will my Son love me again? If I give my soul to Jesus, will she take me back again?”

For those seeking vintage, upbeat Jones – fear not – Tom doesn’t completely ditch the tempo amid Praise and Blame. Cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s ‘Strange Things’ is a boogie-number which makes you wanna twist and shout alongside Jones’ chirpy gospel vocal lines. Track seven sees Tom turn the super catchy Don Gibson track ‘Don’t Knock’ into a 50’s styling number with its zippy electric riff and doo wop girl backing vocals, while ‘Didn’t it Rain’ and ‘Run On’ both sound like a rocking Jerry Lee Lewis, only if he fronted a church choir and sung of spirituality.

Further highlights include the saucy cover of John Lee Hooker’s ‘Burning Hell’, which sees a distorted Zeppelin come Seasick Steve guitar riff punch hard along with Jones’ growling vocals. Meanwhile, the incredible ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’s’ creeping lick and gravelled vocals of “I got a bible in my home. If I don’t read, my soul be lost, it’s nobody’s fault but mine” echoes the dry, stripped back country rock of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ ‘Raising Sand’.

Basically, as he turns 70, Tom Jones has finally grown up with this latest release. I am unable to understand Sharpe’s words, for they could not be further from the truth. Tom couldn’t have made a better move with Praise and Blame. Hands down, this is some of Jones’ finest work in years, taking gospel, country, folk and rock classics and mixing them all into one suave, atmospheric record. Truly, I couldn’t recommended this album enough, even to those who once winced at Tom’s sexy open shirted self.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5K_lPx-DIHI[/youtube]

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