Friday, July 23, 2010

Tom Jones: Praise & Blame (2010)

To quote Chrissie Hynde, it must be Christmas time.

First, Nina Hagen--as harrowingly frightening a space cadet as has ever been coughed forth by a black-hole--makes an honest-to-God (no pun intended) gospel album.

And now Tom Jones.

Yep, that Tom Jones, the Vegas stalwart most famous for his tight pants, chest hair, and panty-bestrewn mic stands.

Actually, it’s not the first time a Sin City heartthrob has put his hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water. In 2003, Englebert Humperdinck released Always Hear the Harmony: The Gospel Sessions.

It wasn’t very good.

Jones’ Praise & Blame (Lost Highway), however, is.

For the most part.

And the stud is seventy!

And he doesn’t dye his hair!

And Englebert Humperdinck does!

But before continuing to praise Praise & Blame, let's get the blame out of the way. Jones’s voice was never on a par with that of his fellow Vegas attraction, Elvis Presley. And the fact that Jones’s versions of “Didn’t It Rain,” “Don’t Knock,” and “Burning Hell” are characterized by roadhouse-rockabilly arrangements reminiscent of Presley’s “I Got a Feeling in My Body” (the Dennis Linde-penned gospel barn-burner that showed up on 1979’s Our Memories Of Elvis Vol. 2) only makes the contrast more apparent.

More blame: Jones doesn’t sing as well as Bob Dylan (whose “What Good Am I?” opens the album), Billy Joe Shaver (“If I Give My Soul”), Mahalia Jackson (“Didn’t It Rain”), or Blind Willie Johnson (“Nobody’s Fault but Mine”) either. His voice is too stentorian, belting where a caress or a love tap would do. But thus has he always been. And anyway his not singing as well as Prince didn’t hurt (much) the version of “Kiss” that he recorded with the Art of Noise in 1988.

Back to the praise: Jones does at least as much with his vocal instrument as Nina Hagen does with hers. Both are limited, but both, when brought to a boil by gospel fervor, can provide the spark it takes to get a fire going. I mean, that’s how it is with God’s love.

You want to pass it on.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah. I had a friend in high school named Emily. She was madly in love with Tom Jones, even though he was old enough to be her not-so-great grandfather when she drove ninety miles to see him (on a school night no less) in concert in 1978. She somehow got backstage and not only met her Welsh idol but also got a photo of him signing the white dress she had worn to the show. I know because she proudly showed the photo around. (And I’m pretty sure she deserved to wear white if you know what I mean. A seventeen-year-old’s boldly declaring her love for Tom Jones in 1978--when all the hip chicks were slavering over John Travolta circa Saturday Night Fever and Grease--was akin to wearing a chastity belt.) I thought she was, you know, a little weird. But she was also nice--and pretty when she wore contacts instead of black-rimmed librarian glasses. And on some level I made a mental note that if Tom Jones was good enough for Emily, he was good enough for me

Now he's giving me that old-time religion.

Which, come to think of it--seeing as how the name of one of his biggest hits was “Delilah”--was only inevitable.

Next in the series: Wayne Newton!

You read it here first.

(More on Praise and Blame:

(Nina Hagen:

1 comment:

  1. You seriously need to learn something, anything, about singers and singing. If you don't like Jones' style, fine. But to paint him as a poor singer is lazy.