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Album review: Tom Jones' 'Praise & Blame'

July 27, 2010 |  4:49 pm

Tom_Jones_240_ Tom Jones turned 70 in June and one listen to "Praise & Blame" leaves no doubt that he's finally decided it's time to stop kidding around. Musically, he's checked out of Vegas and set up shop in Memphis, or maybe Muscle Shoals, for a revivifying excursion through American gospel and blues.

Comparisons will be drawn to Johnny Cash's teaming with Rick Rubin on his series of "American" albums, and Jones and his producer, Ethan Johns, need make no apologies for charting a parallel path that brings out the best in this veteran singer's artistry.

In fact, "artistry" isn't a word that's come up frequently enough through Jones' long career, which he's too often used to exploit his sexuality rather than his spirituality.

Here, he and Johns are working with a faultless batch of songs, starting with Bob Dylan's soul-searching "What Good Am I?" from the Bard of Hibbing's standout 1989 album "Oh Mercy." The journey moves through John Lee Hooker's "Burning Hell," which sounds here like a White Stripes' outtake, through Billy Joe Shaver's remorseful "If I Give My Soul" and even a more upbeat, yet still haunting, arrangement of "Ain't No Grave," the title track from the final entry in the Cash-Rubin series.

Johns lays down a resonant sonic foundation akin to what's become the hallmark of T Bone Burnett's work, and it's the ideal framework for Jones' newfound gravitas. That's a quality that has been unusual through much of the Welsh singer's life, but hopefully won't be from here on out.

— Randy Lewis

Tom Jones
"Praise & Blame"
(Lost Highway/Mercury Nashville)
Four stars (Out of four)

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