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Album review: Tom Jones, "Praise & Blame"

By Allison Stewart

Almost every male crooner over 60 has his Johnny Cash Moment, when he stops making drecky adult contemporary (or country, or pop) albums and returns to his purportedly natural state of grave artistic seriousness, even if, like 70-year-old Welsh legend Tom Jones, he was never all that serious in the first place.

Jones made his fortune as a hip-swinging, winkingly louche purveyor of lounge pop in its purest, giddiest forms. On his latest comeback album, "Praise & Blame," he's appropriately restrained, somber, even, but wise enough not to try to out-serious Neil Diamond, who performed on his own comeback disc as if he was singing from inside the tomb, or Cash, who almost was.

Jones is no stranger to hipness makeovers. In recent years he's collaborated with Wyclef Jean, covered the Arctic Monkeys and grown the kind of goatee last seen in Brooklyn in 2006. "Praise" could be merely a maneuver, but the disc, produced by Ryan Adams's frequent collaborator Ethan Johns, feels real. It's Jones's "O Brother," "Raising Sand" and "Ain't No Grave" all rolled into one, a mixed bag of roots-related styles - blues, gospel-lite, country-folk, rockabilly, soul - stripped of all fat and reduced to the barest elements of voice and spartan, if often electrified, instrumentation.

The song choices are impeccable, from a thunderous cover of Bob Dylan's "Oh Mercy" standout "What Good Am I?" to a holy roller redo of John Lee Hooker's "Burning Hell," all propelled by Jones's remarkable voice, still a marvel of quaveriness and bluster and sinew after all these years.

Recommended tracks: "What Good Am I?," "If I Give My Soul"

By Allison Stewart  |  July 27, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Quick spins  | Tags: Tom Jones  
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"he was never all that serious in the first place." Well, I don't know about that. I know that he's always had great bands, including Big Jim Sullivan on guitar for a chunk of years, and Darlene Love as one of his backup singers (The Blossoms). He came from the music that this album contains, and now he's gone back to it. What I've heard sounds great. I wish the writers and critics would not be so fast to label people when they have no way of knowing the real truth. He's always been a great singer, with lots of great songs. No one can have every cut, or album, be as good as the last all of the time, but he's done pretty well. Especially in light of the dreck that passes for music on the radio these days. I know there's a lot of great contemporary artists, but few of them are actually on the radio, or television.

Posted by: tojo45 | July 27, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

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