No blame, just praise.
When Johnny Cash hooked up with Rick Rubin to make the inspired series of albums known as the American Recordings, he proved that a talented artist could reinvent himself beyond a lifelong public perception. But where Cash had a long legacy of artistic credibility to go along with his popular success, Tom Jones was known for his booming voice and the collection of underwear tossed at his feet.
No one expected that he’d issue a stark blues and gospel album, and I’m certain that nobody predicted he’d release an album that is a serious contender for the best record of the year.
Fronting a stripped down sound often comparable to the chunk and thwack of The White Stripes, Jones has created a spiritual journey that begins soft and subtle, surfs the River Styx and ascends towards the heavens before leaving the listener by the doorstep with a personal challenge. In other words, Jones not only got around on that fastball, he crushed it.
Jones, at seventy, still possesses those powerful pipes and sounds absolutely rejuvenated on these selections. The myriad of well chosen songs taps the songbooks of Bob Dylan, Pops Staples, Billy Joe Shaver and John Lee Hooker, whose “Burning Hell” is punctuated by greasy slide guitar and the guttural bark and howl of the singer. I saw him do this live with just a drummer and guitar player as accompaniment and it was riveting.
Sometimes people release an album outside their wheelhouse to be trendy and widen their audience. I don’t know Jones personally nor can I speak for his religious beliefs (or lack thereof). But I can tell you that after listening to this forty minute sermon, I’m converted.
Go listen to clips and judge for yourself.