Everyone knew who “the man in black” was. The late and great Johnny Cash. In his last years he hooked up with legendary producer Rick Rubin to produce his “American Recordings” album series. Rick Rubin was also the producer behind the album “21” by Adele – a album that has grown to become one of the bestselling albums the last two years. Many years before that he produced The Beastie Boys first album “Ill Communication”, Slayers “Reign In Blood” and Red Hot Chili Peppers funkiest album “Blood Sugar Sex Magic”. With the “American” albums by Johnny Cash he reinvented Johnny as one of the greatest singer-of-songs ever with sparse recordings of other artists songs mainly acoustic, raw and a naked production.
The albums covered great songs performed by artists like Depeche Mode, Tom Petty, Nine Inch Nails, Leonard Cohen and more! All inn all Johnny Cash released 6 albums produced by Rick Rubin!
In the following years we saw artist like legendary and one of worlds best songwriters Kris Kristofferson record albums in the same vein. Like his “This Old Road”. Kris Kristoffersons friend Willie Nelson has done the same thing for years, and he is also becoming better and better the older he gets, and gets more cred. His voice gets more fragile and broken and shows real soul! Another great of the grand singer-songwriters is Neil Diamond who had Rick Rubin to produce a couple of his albums. His latest albums has been replicas of the Johnny Cash formula; One legend, sparse and quite dark recordings, a large handful of cover songs, but he has not had the same success as the late man in black had. It seems like the team Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin started something they couldn´t imagine themselves!
But now – to the man this blogpost is supposed to be about – and I have to admint – a man I didn´t think I ever would write a blogpost about…
Welcome back Sir Tom Jones
Yes, you read correctly. The welch stallion did two years ago what he should have done years ago. He admitted his age – and has reinvented himself as a living legend – and he sounds better than ever!
I guess many of you fell off your chair now – or think I must be mad or something.
Am I talking about the same Tom Jones that has girls – or to sound less pervert – women’s underwear thrown onstage for as long as you and I can remember.
The same Tom Jones that worked with 80s electro-synth group The Art Of Noise on his rework of “Kiss” the Prince classic from 1986.
The same Tom Jones that made a whole album of covers on “Reload” with a bunch of young(er) musicians like Cardigans Nina Person, Lenny Kravitz, Robbie Williams, Manic Street Preachers, Portishead, Stereophonics and Cherys Matthews to name just a few.
The same Tom Jones that did a whole album “Mr Jones” with Wycleff Jean of legendary rap-group The Fugees behind the mixing- and producer table in 2002.
Tom Jones also sported a darker hair and had grown a beard during these “younger” years (thanks to a creative hairdresser one must admit) and his face seemed way smoother than other men half his age.
But back in 2004 something happened – Sir Tom Jones made an album with Jools Holland where they went back to his own roots, covering songs in genres he played in his younger years; Blues, R&B, Rockabilly songs. I haven’t heard this album so I am not going to dig too deep into to it other than I already then heard rumors about Tom Jones is doing giant leap away from dance/rock/pop he did in the late 90s – early 2000s.
Four years later, in 2008 he released “24 Hours” a album that was a again flirting with the combo of modern beats and newer retrosoul by artist like Duffy and the late Amy Winehouse. Enough about that for now!
Then the man rises again…
The welsh stallion, this time not meant sexually – but huge, strong and mighty! Tom Jones doesn´t work with young hip musicians. His hair has got a more natural color, white, gray like silver
r, so has his, new trademark, the beard. His face has started again to show natural lines and he, to be honest, Tom Jones look more natural and cooler than ever!
The year is 2010 and he works with producer Ethan Jones, who has had his magic hands on albums by artists such as Ray LaMontagne, Ryan Adams, Counting Crows, Rufus Wainwright, Joe Cocker – to name a few. Tom Jones sings in a more laid-back tone, his voice sounds deeper. He almost talks more than he sings. He sounds almost like his friend from younger years, Elvis Presley at his last recordings.
The album he releases, “Praise & Blame” is a spiritual album, where he digs into the american songbook (sic). And starts the album with a great cover of Bob Dylans “What Good Am I” and Tom Jones owns this song from now on! John Lee Hooker also gets covered, country legend Billy Joe Shaver and a great collection of other blues/gospel/soul songs. The four last songs is written by Tom Jones and Ethan Jones and fits perfectly into the great mix of mainly acoustic, sparse recordings – with focus on the voice and naked production and telling the spiritual stories. The album lasts for only 38 great minutes.
It seems like record companies has understood that a album does´t have to fill up all 80 minutes that is possible to push into a single CD. The next, and until now last, Tom Jones album “Spirit In The Room” was released earlier this year, in the first half of 2012 and includes only 37 minutes of music. The albums includes more of the same, as on “Praise & Blame” – and is a great album full of new and old classics songs – no fillers!
Tom Jones shows the listener that the older he gets, the better he gets. Ethan Jones is still producing his albums and the comparison with Rick Rubins American series of Tom Jones starts to show. The main difference between “Praise & Plame” and “Spirit In The Room” is on “Praise” did Tom Jones mainly do versions of classic blues and R&B songs by long gone legends within the genre – and on “Spirit” he revisits more contemporary songs by artists like the album opener Leonard Cohens “Tower Of Song”. Paul Simons “Love & Blessings” and Paul McCartneys “(I Want To) Come Home”, Richard & Linda Thompsons “Dimming of the Lights” and Tom Waits “Bad As Me” – there is also a cover of a even younger band, The Low Anthem song and some blues covers on this album. Tom Jones has become a laid-back – and a really cool artist – his artistic change can be compared with Johnny Cash´ transformation.
Tom Jones, now being in his 72nd year, shows the listeners that it´s to late to stop now! Instead he has finally started to be what he is – a great performer, that no longer try to be being hip and follows all the newest trends. Instead he has finally found his form – his genre, even though he walks in trails that already has been pawed up by other artists.
He still has courage to do what he does – and proves that he is – a man that is in his last part of life, but he still has the coolness to get on stage – and perform and doing songs the way only he can!
Tom Jones; if your friend the King of Rock&Roll, Elvis Presley, still had lived he would have been proud of you.
I like to think that Elvis looks at Sir Tom Jones from heaven up above with Johnny Cash by his side smiling and they agree…
…Sir Tom Jones – you won at last!