If anyone knows a thing or two about a gimmick, it’s Tom Jones. Here after all is a man who went from club singer to chart topper, from Vegas megastar to the Glastonbury main stage with apparent ease. Now, however, we are faced with the real Tom Jones, no gimmicks. Or are there? The leaked email from new record company Island that handily appeared last month painted the singer as an unlikely outsider and there can’t have been anyone involved with Praise & Blame who isn’t aware what a revitalising effect such a back to basics has had on many careers. Gone, then, is the hair dye, the fake tan and the ironic covers, replaced by craggy black and white photography and an album of gospel and spiritual songs.
What his traditional audience is going to make of it is anyone’s guess but for the rest of us, this is a real joy. For too many years now, Jones the artist has been overshadowed by the other aspects of his personality but here he is asked to carry the show on his talent alone. It’s a task he’s more than up to. With production handled sympathetically by Ethan Jones, Praise & Blame is a towering piece of work. For all the talk of ‘the voice’ over the years it’s still a surprise to hear Jones sing this well and with such empathy for the source material. We know he can raw but the emotion he shows on the likes of Dylan’s ‘What Could Am I?’ and ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ is a complete surprise. He even dabbles with a bit of rock ‘n’ roll to break things up. Crucially, while Johnny Cash’s final albums had an increasingly fatalistic tone, this is very much the sound of a man in the later stages of life having a ball. Gimmick or not, all power to him.