Tom Jones has always been better than the average music snob has been willing to acknowledge. Even when he was making his living as the greatest of all Las Vegas lounge lizards, he had craft, passion, and a desire to deliver for his audience that put his peers to shame. At the age of 75, he's not only singing with all the force, power, and authority he commanded in the '60s and '70s, but he's making the best and most ambitious recordings of his career.
You can always rely on Sir Tom Jones for a touch of class, whether he’s mentoring leather-lunged hopefuls or belting out standards on a Vegas stage. It’s been interesting, then, to watch his self-reinvention as a rootsy, gospel-tinged R&B man. Long Lost Suitcase is the third album in this phase and possibly the most interesting as it’s released simultaneously with the autobiography Over The Top And Back.
Few artists can claim to have spanned as much musical terrain as Tom Jones. Born in humble circumstances to a poor Welsh mining family, he became a teen sensation in the mid-‘60s, an unabashed crooner whose ponytail bedecked image and unapologetic sex appeal reaped several early hits, among them, “What’s New Pussycat”, “Delilah”, “Green, Green Grass of Home”, and “She’s a Lady”, prime examples of the three dozen or so chart toppers that helped establish him as an international star. An Order of the British Empire and knighthood from Queen Elizabeth, as well as a Grammy for Best New Artist of 1966, an MTV Video Music Award in 1989 and a pair of Brit Awards accorded him in 2000 and 2003 further attest to his outstanding accomplishments.
Tom Jones has entered the era of his pop career during which he focuses on covers, flipping his way through the songbook and filtering the contents through his hip-swivel of a voice. Well, to be fair, he’s been riding on the “charisma and covers” plan for quite some time, making his return to the spotlight with 1999’s covers album, Reload, among others. While in other hands that kind of unoriginal goofiness can be shrugworthy at best or frustrating at worst, Jones’ guileless enthusiasm makes the whole exercise kind of charming.
Tom Jones’s 2010 album, Praise and Blame, kickstarted the veteran’s late-career transition from hip-swivelling lothario to sombre, gravitas-laden balladeer via a series of stripped-down confessionals. There are plenty more of those here, as Pontypridd’s finest, now 75, takes on songs by the likes of Willie Nelson and Hank Williams. In Gillian Welch’s stark, surging electronic Elvis Presley Blues, Jones addresses his late friend’s death, “all alone in a long decline”.