Once I Was An Eagle
So, a promising debut album from the old guy who is a judge on The Voice…
We joke, of course, but it’s extraordinary to reflect that for some younger music fans, the Saturday-night ITV talent show will be their first exposure to Tom Jones, the singing Welsh goliath who conquered the world in the 1960s and has sold over 100 million albums during the course of a career that has lasted close on 50 years.
Yet for many of those years Jones was lost to a world of cabaret and Las Vegas, before recently attempting to re-connect with contemporary audiences. Spirit In The Room is the follow-up to Praise & Blame, his 2010 collection of blues and gospel cover versions that hit No. 2 and reinvented Tom much as American Recordings did for Johnny Cash back in the 1990s.
It’s no American Recordings – Tom’s voice, a stentorian and confident bellow, lacks the cracked vulnerability that Cash lent songs such as Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt – but still Jones brings an august gravitas to his well-chosen material. He breezes through Leonard Cohen’s Tower of Song, with his pitch-perfect baritone turning Cohen’s ironic, self-mocking line “I was born with the gift of a golden voice” into a simple statement of fact.
Indeed, his advanced years – Tom is now 71 – lend many lines a piquant, poignant relevance. When he drawls “For so long I was out in the cold” on Paul McCartney’s (I Want To) Go Home, he could be referencing his own years in the artistic wilderness. Yet his powerhouse vocal remains intact, as evidenced by a spirited, tremulous reworking of Paul Simon’s Love And Blessings.
Unlike the obscure tracks on Praise & Blame, Tom is standing on the shoulders of giants this time around, bringing a louche charm to Tom Waits’s outsider lament Bad As Me and crooning like his own former close friend Elvis on Richard Thompson’s melancholic ballad Dimming of the Day. Yet Sprit In The Room’s standout moment comes when Jones goes back to the music that first inspired him with a brilliantly stark, elemental reading of original blues man Blind Willie Johnson’s Soul Of A Man.
His current high profile means that Spirit In The Room is likely to equal the chart-strafing success of Praise & Blame and shine a fresh light on Tom Jones. For decades, we had him down as a cheesy light entertainer: maybe, just maybe, he was a blues man all along.