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"Praise & Blame"

Tom Jones – Praise & Blame
27 July 2010, 10:00 Written by Steve Lampiris

Praise & Blame is the record that will redefine the career of the legendary Tom Jones. Maybe. This is the album that his new label, Island, didn’t want released after having heard it. Apparently. We know this because the label – who signed him for a reported £1.5 million – had an internal email sent from the vice president to the A&R department leaked. Supposedly.

You’d think all of this would overshadow the album. And it would if the purported story above didn’t reek of PR stunting bullshit. The saddest part is that none of these alleged facts have anything to do with the actual music contained within. Which is a shame because Praise & Blame could very well be a defining record in the Tom Jones catalog. And not just for the obvious reason that it’s a collection of southern-fried, Bible-thumping standards. No, it’s an album that, when you move beyond all the attempted hype and anti-hype (which is just more hype – but I digress), it’s a solid collection of songs for the septuagenarian. It’s fun, it’s concise, it’s Tom Jones. You can’t ask for more than that.

Basically, the record oscillates among three types of songs: swamp water-logged guitar boogie (‘Burning Hell,’ Don’t Knock,’ and ‘Didn’t It Rain’); sweaty, acoustic campfire send-ups (‘Ain’t No Grave’ and ‘If I Give My Soul’); and barren, soul-bearing contemplations (‘What Good Am I,’ and ‘Did Trouble Me’). As a whole the disc is about salvation and grace more than anything else. This is obvious given the title, as well as the song titles. It’s an interesting position to be singing from if you’re best known for ‘Sex Bomb’ and ‘What’s New Pussycat?’

Given this, it could be argued that Praise & Blame is disingenuous. You know what? That’s probably correct. But that ain’t the point and is, therefore, irrelevant. The record is simply a great set of gospel-infused standards that Jones has expertly made his own with his style, charisma and Jones-iness. I imagine that Jones may frame this record as his goodbye to his fans one day. “This is my act of personal redemption,” he’ll say. “It’s the final chapter in my storied career and has the properly somber tone. I hope you all understand.” And we’ll reply, “Yeah, that’s great. Now play ‘It’s Not Unusual.’”


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