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Tom Jones - Praise & Blame

Tom Jones, Praise & Blame

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

TOM Jones’ self-confessed “Johnny Cash moment” arrives under some of the most bizarre circumstances surrounding any albums.

Allegedly derided by a senior executive at Island for being “a sick joke”, it is also being hailed by other quarters as one of the veteran performer’s most powerful and intimate works to date. It’s certainly different…. and neither as God awful as the ‘leaked memo’ suggests or as classic as some reviews have been quick to suggest.

On the plus side, Jones’ takes to blues and gospel with a natural affinity, setting his deep, unmistakeable vocals to some classics from Bob Dylan and John Lee Hooker’s repertoire and emerging with his reputation untarnished. But the self-serious nature of proceedings may leave fans pining for some fun, which Jones is more usually renowned for bringing to his music.

That said, the album gets off to a cracking start with his moody, stripped back and forlorn cover of Dylan’s What Good Am I… a dusky slow-burner that demands your complete respect and attention. Jones’ vocals are terrific, emoting self-doubt and regret packed with emotion.

It’s followed by the rousing blues anthem Lord Help, which should have your feet stomping along as Jones wraps his deep-throated vocals around a rousing guitar riff. The gospel soaked lyrics call for the Lord to help sinners, gamblers and anyone else who has lost their way, while that blistering riff screams out in inspired fashion.

Did Through Me, on the other hand, starts off in almost a capella fashion, allowing for another broken down set of vocals from Jones to captivate the listener… all lamentful and broken, yet entirely convincing. An especially nice touch is the late inclusion of a banjo, which provides a near-perfect accompaniment.

Jones raises the tempo once more for the bluesy, church-soaked and gospel backed Strange Things, which could almost serve as a new alternative to HBO’s True Blood theme, and then hits you with a rousing rhythm and blues vibe on the Hooker cover Burning Hell, another of the LP’s highlights with its slide guitar moments.

But then the album seems to waver slightly. The religious elements suddenly become a little repetitive, while the gospel and blues elements less diverse. If I Give My Soul is more competent than spectacular… another tale of regret and loss that sounds more filler than killer.

Don’t Knock does deliver another robust guitar riff and is the closest time the album comes to allowing Jones to cut loose and hint at the pomp and bravado of his Sex Bomb persona, but the slower, more brooding times return with Nobody’s Fault By Mine, which strips things back [again] to take a lazy, bluesy journey through more bad times and soul-searching.

Didn’t It Rain is a serviceable blues-rocker, Ain’t No Grave a fine statement of defiance, and Run On a perfectly decent blues-rocker from the John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy handbook. But by then, the album’s best days have come and gone.

Jones deserves credit for continuing to broaden his repertoire and for delivering his most thought-provoking and talked about work in ages, especially given that for the most part it works. But by its very nature, blues, gospel and southern soul can become wearying at the best of times, and not even an artist of Jones’ free-flowing charisma can enliven it.

Hence, while Jones shines brightly throughout and proves more than worthy of the material, the material itself is sometimes the problem. Praise & Blame is great at times, but tiring at others.

Download picks: What Good Am I?, Lord Help, Did Trouble Me, Burning Hell, Don’t Knock, Ain’t No Grave

Track listing:

  1. What Good Am I?
  2. Lord Help
  3. Did Trouble Me
  4. Strange Things
  5. Burning Hell
  6. If I Give My Soul
  7. Don’t Knock
  8. Nobody’s Fault But Mine
  9. Didn’t It Rain
  10. Ain’t No Grave
  11. Run On