Yes, that Tom Jones — the one-time hitmaker (“It’s Not Unusual,””Delilah”) turned open-shirted, over-sexed, women’s-undergarment-thrown-at cliche of a Vegas lounge act. Yeah, I wasn’t a big fan either. But you have to admit that even if you faulted his material, even if you faulted his sartorial style, even if you faulted everything else about him, you couldn’t fault his pipes.
And you still can’t. At age 75, he can still bring it. Baritonal in quality, tenorial in range, and with just a hint of the patina of age, Jones’s voice is a wonder, whether at full belt or smooth croon.
What’s changed on this new album and its two predecessors (“Praise & Blame” and “Sprit in the Room”) is the material he lavishes his vocal gifts upon. Working with producer/guitarist Ethan Johns, Jones covers on “Long Lost Suitcase” songs associated with Willie Nelson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Los Lobos, Gillian Welch, the Rolling Stones, Hank Williams, Lavern Baker. et al., and does so with utter aplomb. These Tom Jones/Ethan Johns albums have to consitute one of the most remarkable artistic rehabilitations since Johnny Cash teamed up with producer Rick Rubin for those great “American Recordings.”
Mind you, one still doesn’t listen to Tom Jones to admire his subtlety or restraint (though listen to tracks 6 & 7 to have your opinion adjusted). And those aggrieved by the mere thought of cultural appropriation as presently defined should excercise extreme caution, lest your delicate sensitivities be bruised. Me, I think that a septuagenarian Welsh coal miner’s son singing such a range of Americana (the Stones’ “Factory Girl” not excepted) does credit both to Tom Jones and to our musical culture.
“‘Long Lost Suitcase,'” the cover copy informs us, “is the companion soundtrack album for Sir Tom Jones’ first ever autobiography, ‘Over the Top And Back,’ out now.” Imagine waiting until 75 to put out your first autobiography. Would that others showed similar modesty.