Release Date: Apr 23, 2013
Record label: Rounder
Genre(s): Adult Contemporary, Vocal, Pop/Rock
Sure, scoff at his overwrought way with a song. But Tom Jones has had more panties flung at him than you ever will. His latest is the sound of vet's last lap, produced a la Johnny Cash's American Songs. Covers of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits are good fits; elsewhere, his off the leash vibrato oversells.
It’s crazy to comprehend the Tolkien-esque journey that Thomas Woodward first embarked upon nearly half a century ago. Since leaving his sleepy mining community in South Wales, Woodward, under his adopted superhero alias “TOM JONES”, has literally done and seen it all. Many times over. A working class lad who survived TB before venturing Dick Whittington-fashion in search of derring-do, Jones has now scored hits crossing six decades with UK number ones as far back as 1965 and as recently as 2009.
Although it isn't the revelation or surprising, extraordinary achievement that his 2010 record Praise & Blame was, Spirit in the Room is another solid, very welcome set of stripped-back interpretations from Tom Jones, produced once again by Ethan Johns, making those comparisons to Johnny Cash's late-period recordings with Rick Rubin all the more fitting. Know that the songbook has changed from classic (spirituals, blues, and traditional numbers) to more contemporary (Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney, the Low Anthem, and others) and that Jones and Johns are both in top form and you've got the picture, along with that same frustration that no matter how fun "What's New Pussycat?" and "Sex Bomb" were, a couple more albums like this along the way would have been rich and rewarding. Jones joins the ranks of singers who have really "felt" Cohen's words in "Tower of Song," here in one of its most naked of performances, but as the dark carnival of Tom Waits' "Bad as Me" gives way to a frail, delicate, and lonely Richard Thompson song, it's obvious this one doesn't have that last one's purposeful layout, at least not until the fourth quarter.
Tom Jones is still commendably committed to re-imagining himself as a Rick Rubin-years Johnny Cash, by way of interestingly oddball selections of Americana and bespoke blues covers. Backed by a graceful but gritty band – which includes Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa on drums – a touch of the crotch-thrusting Las Vegas dazzler still flinches in the pleasingly demented showmanship on Jones’ voodoo version of Tom Waits’ ‘Bad As Me’. The softer moments also shine, with a tender painting of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Tower Of Song’ and a transcendent, baroque take on The Low Anthem’s ‘Charlie Darwin’.
Full marks for nerve to Tom Jones for opening his second successive album of stripped-down gravitas rock with Leonard Cohen's Tower of Song, transformed from hotel-bar funk into a finger-picked country blues. Cohen's version is a mordant, blackly comic meditation, but Jones can't play lines about "born with the gift of a golden voice" for laughs and so he turns it, unexpectedly and triumphantly, into a eulogy for a life in music. It's also the highlight of this collection mixing covers of rock-aristo songwriters, a couple of well-regarded cults and a sprinkling of blues, soul and gospel.
Before TV viewers ask, there is, thankfully, no version of U2's Beautiful Day on Tom Jones's latest record. Like its successful predecessor, 2010's God-fearing Praise & Blame, Spirit in the Room is an album of covers. It does not feature Jones's most recent venture into other artists' material, however, in which the massed ranks (and we use the word "rank" advisedly) of Jones and his fellow judges on BBC1's The Voice performed cruel and unusual punishments upon Beautiful Day the other week.
Neither a sea-change nor a slump, this 40th studio LP finds Sir Tom on fine form. John Aizlewood 2012 Assuming he has a full head of hair, there comes a time in every man’s life when he must make the decision: to dye or not to dye. Take Tom Jones. In 2009, he was fast approaching 70 and had hair that was even darker than Nick Cave’s.