Is it possible that Tom Jones, at age 70, is only now using everything he's got to his best advantage? Praise & Blame casts away the extraneous baggage that has weighed down many of Jones's previous recordings and puts the focus squarely on the voice, which not only retains all its dynamic range and muscle but exhibits, in its maturity, a refined sense of nuance and grace.
An incomparable singer who can adapt to his style just about any tune, Jones has at times over his long career — particularly during the glitzy Vegas years — allowed the music to become subservient to the sex-god image. Praise & Blame buries that costume for good.
Produced by Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon, Rufus Wainwright), this Americana-leaning set teams him with a small band equally adept at coaxing him through John Lee Hooker ("Burning Hell"), Dylan ("What Good Am I"), Sister Rosetta Tharpe ("Strange Things"), and Billy Joe Shaver ("If I Give My Soul"). The songs, recorded live in the studio, all bear a message of one sort or another, but the overarching message is this: as he eases into his Viagra years (he's even let his hair go white), Tom Jones is in no danger of growing old.