Album Review: Tom Jones' 'Spirit In the Room'

Album Review: Tom Jones' 'Spirit In the Room'

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Are he and Ethan Johns the next Rick Rubin/Johnny Cash?

Tom Jones has, thankfully, never faded away since his sexy, swinging success of the ‘60s, and every decade or so, he has a resurgence.

In 1989, hipsters embraced Jones through his kicky remake of Prince’s “Kiss” with The Art of Noise. Then in 1999, he scored a dance hit with “Sexbomb.”

This latest wave, though somewhat lower profile, started in 2008 with “24 Hours,” his first album of all new material in the U.S. in 15 years. He covered such wildly divergent material as Bruce Springsteen’s “The Hitter,”  and “Sugar Daddy” (written by Bono and The Edge), as well as performed a number of his own compositions.

That whet people’s appetites for 2010’s “Praise & Blame,” his first pairing with producer Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon, Ray LaMontagne). Unlike “24 Hours,” which had a little silliness along with depth, “Praise & Blame” aimed to give Jones a certain gravitas afforded folks like Johnny Cash with his Rick Rubin/American Recordings set. And it worked. The collection of gospel covers received wildly enthusiastic reviews. The song reached No. 2 on the U.K. Albums Chart.

So the pump was primed for another set between the sympatico Jones and Johns and they have delivered in a big way with “Spirit in the Room,” out today (23).

While the pair have broadened the parameters —these songs are more about the human spirit and the human condition than religious tunes, though there’s plenty of spirituality here— the guidelines remain the same: let Jones’ voice fully carry the album because, at 72, he still can. His vocals are vital and robust here. Surround him with songs that will be familiar to some and new to others, but none were such big hits (with the possible exception of Mickey Newbury’s ‘60s hit, “Just Dropped in”) that the originals will loom large.

In almost all cases, Johns has opted to give Jones’ voice as little accompaniment as possible because it’s still so rich and supple that it never needs a place to hide. The one  place that differs is on The Low Anthem’s gorgeous “Charlie Darwin.” The original features layered gossamer vocals. Instead, Johns adds a choir that gives the song an even more otherworldly feel.

Jones drops all the schmaltz —to be fair, he hasn’t relied on that in a long time— and lays his sins bare, especially on a scarily menacing remake of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man.”  He takes Tom Waits’ deliciously devilish “Bad As Me” and turns up the heat as he relishes in finding someone who shares his same demons. Just listen to his cackle.

Conversely, there are songs of great tenderness, including his cover of Bob Dylan's  “When The Deal Goes Down, “ rendered as an accordion-and optigan-bolstered waltz so smooth and genteel you could practically ice skate to it.

Not only does Johns have a sure hand as producer, his guitar work here—on slide and electric— adds a Spaghetti Western feel to many of the tracks, giving them a cinematic feel, especially on Joe Henry’s swampy and haunting “All Blues Hail Mary.”

Some artists just get better and better with age and just as Jones has let his naturally gray hair shine through over the last few years instead of dying it black, there seems to be the same kind of authenticity in his songs. He pours every one of his 72 years’ worth of experience and pain and hurt and joy into these songs.

 

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<p>Janelle Monae performs at Coachella.</p>

Janelle Monae performs at Coachella.

Credit: John Shearer/Invision/AP

Listen: Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu have something to say on 'Q.U.E.E.N'

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And you're going to hear them out

Janelle Monae, who’s coming off two very successful performances at Coachalla,  has had it with any of your preconceived notions about her, whether it’s because she’s a woman or because she’s black or which god she does or doesn’t believe in, or for any other reason you want to throw at her. Save your time.

There’s a confidence, swagger and attitude on her new single, "Q.U.E.E.N." that Monae has previously kept hidden, or maybe all her success from the past few years has brought a new boldness, either way, it’s ferocious.

[More after the jump...]

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Listen: Lana Del Rey's 'Young and Beautiful' from 'The Great Gatsby' in full

Listen: Lana Del Rey's 'Young and Beautiful' from 'The Great Gatsby' in full

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Aching track

While some of the music we’ve heard for “The Great Gatsby” sounds like way too much of a stretch, even by Baz Luhrmann’s admittedly broad, genre-busting/time-busting standards, Lana Del Rey’s aching “Young and Beautiful” fits in perfectly.

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Alex Lifeson and Dave Grohl</p>

Alex Lifeson and Dave Grohl

Credit: AP Photo

Watch: The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame summed up in under two minutes

Plus, what to look for when the induction ceremony runs on HBO

HBO will telecast the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies on May 18, but you can get a snippet of what you’ll see then—and what you missed when the class of 2013 was inducted on April 18 in Los Angeles—in our wrap-up of the evening’s proceedings. This year's inductees were Albert King, Heart, Rush, Donna Summer, Randy Newman, Public Enemy, Lou Adler, and Quincy Jones.

The actual program lasted nearly 4 1/2 hours, some of it glorious, some of it painful:

Among the glorious to watch for on the HBO special:

*Gary Clark Jr./John Mayer/Booker T Jones salute to Albert King, including their performance of Jones’ “Born Under a Bad Sign,” which he co-wrote for King when he was 19.

*Heart’s ferocious performance of “Crazy On You,” including Ann Wilson’s vocals, which only seem to get stronger.

*Foo Fighters Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins’ hilarious salute to Rush

*Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” performance: if for nothing else, the great aerial shots of Neil Peart’s drum set up.

Not so glorious:

*Flavor Flav’s 15-minute rambling speech that had everyone in the room started to wish an extremely patient Chuck D would point to Flav’s clock and tell him his time is up

*Quincy Jones’s similarly rambling speech--although he has earned the right to drift and sail through his speech however he sees fit.

*Usher’s strangely lounge-like performance of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” (although he makes up for it with his dance moves

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<p>Taylor Swift</p>

Taylor Swift

Credit: Al Powers/AP

Music Power Rankings: Rush, Taylor Swift and Psy make the list

Pink and Paramore also have reasons to cheer

1. Rush: After years of being eligible, the rock trio finally makes it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in part, due to its loyal fans ongoing lobbying efforts. Is Kiss’s turn next? Plus, Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins’ induction speech set the standard for hilarious inductions.

2. Twitter Music: Twitter launches its own music service, claiming “it will change the way people find music.” Yeah, we’ve heard that one before.

3. P!nk: Her single “Just Give Me A Reason,” featuring Nate Ruess leaps to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, giving her her fourth No. 1 single.

4. Blur:
The British band gets the nod to close out Friday night at Coachella on the second week, bumping the Stone Roses to their opening act.

5. Paramore:
The pared-down group earns its first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with its fourth album.

6. Daft Punk:
The French dance duo unveils the first single, “Get Lucky,” from its highly anticipated new album “Random Access Memories,” and the even better news is it was worth the wait.

7. Taylor Swift:
In a staggering move, she lands her 41st top 40 song on the Hot 100 with “Highway Don’t Care,” Tim McGraw’s tune, which features her and Keith Urban. That ties her for 10th place among all acts... joining the likes of Elvis Presley, Elton John, the Beatles, and, uh, the “Glee” cast.

8. Record Store Day: Saturday is the annual Record Store Day, but please remember to support your local indie record store the other 364 days of the year too so it doesn’t go the tragic way of Bleecker Bob’s.

9. Psy: In one week, “Gentleman” has racked up more than 168 million page views. 

10. Justin Bieber: He blunders by writing that he hopes that Anne Frank would have been a “belieber,” in his latest series of missteps.  Growing up in public is very tough, baby, baby, baby, oh, baby, baby, baby....

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Watch Public Enemy's Chuck D at the Rock Hall induction: 'We were always uncool'

Watch Public Enemy's Chuck D at the Rock Hall induction: 'We were always uncool'

Plus, he explains exactly what Flavor Flav's role in the band is

Public Enemy’s Chuck D had to wait quite a long time to give his acceptance speech at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony Thursday night as he waited for band mate Flavor Flav to wax on for 15 minutes. But when he did, he spoke eloquently about Public Enemy’s lineage and all the various musics the collective draw from.

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<p>Fall Out Boy</p>

Fall Out Boy

Credit: Dan Hallman/AP

Fall Out Boy and Kid Cudi duke it out for No. 1 on Billboard 200

Where does Justin Timberlake go next week?

Fall Out Boy gets a big welcome back after five years after releasing its last album as “Save Rock And Roll” will likely debut at the top of the Billboard 200 next week.

The title is in a bit of a dead heat with Kid Cudi’s “Indicud” for No. 1, with both projects looking to sell between 145,000 and 155,000 copies.

Looking good to hold at No. 3 is Justin Timberlake’s former chart topper, “The 20/20 Experience.” A trio of country albums then follow for Nos. 4-6: Blake Shelton’s “Based on A True Story” at No. 4, The Band Perry’s “Pioneer” at No. 5 and Brad Paisley’s “Wheelhouse” at No. 6.

Two more debuts follow with Christian hip-hop artist Andy Mineo’s “Heroes For Sale” at No. 7 and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Mosquito” at No. 8. However, it’s a tight race for spots 7-10, so either one of the newcomers could end up placing below Paramore’s self-titled set, which, as of Friday, Hits Daily Double predicts will drop to No. 9, and Lil Wayne’s “I Am Not A Human Being,” at No. 10. All four titles are too close to call with a few days left before the chart closes and are now targeted to each sell between 30,000 and 35,000 copies.
 

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Watch: Why Chris Cornell is a believer in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Watch: Why Chris Cornell is a believer in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Plus: Why did he want to high tail it out of the press room?

Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell gave a heartfelt and impassioned speech to induct Heart into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Thursday night in Los Angeles, touching on why Ann & Nancy Wilson mean so much to the Seattle rockers that have come after them, including Cornell.

Indeed, whether it’s Alice in Chains or Soundgarden or Pearl Jam, Heart gets a lot of love from the rockers and, in return, Heart has praised and nurtured many of these bands as they came up through the ranks.

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<p>Rush</p>

Rush

Credit: AP Photo

Watch: Rush's Geddy Lee and Neil Peart thank their fans for Rock Hall induction

What does Alex Lifeson have to say?

Rush’s fans have ardently lobbied for their favorite power trio to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ever since the band first became eligible in 1998. Alas, the Canadian rock act never even made the ballot. All that changed this year when the band not only made it onto the finalists’ ballot, but ended up one of six acts inducted at last night’s ceremony in Los Angeles. 

Geddy Lee, Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson made their way backstage and I asked them about their fans’ role in getting them the honor.  I addressed the question to Lee since Peart is notoriously a little shy about speaking to the media, so it was a delight when after Lee answered, Peart jumped in with more.

As far as Lifeson’s “blah, blah... ,” that was an extension of his weird acceptance speech, which consisted solely of his very animated use of only the word “Blah” to seemingly act out the band’s 39-year career.

Lee said, “I think the collective voices of our fans, without question, put a hell of a lot of pressure on {the Hall] to seriously consider us... I had the people from the Hall of Fame coming up to me today thanking us because it’s been the quietest it’s ever been after the announcements are made, usually they are so beseiged with angry violent emails and such...”

Peart feels the fans and the band have grown up together. “We have evolved naturally in our music and our lyrics and our songs and all of our experiences as from our past and our present as grown ups and we’ve expressed all that in our songs and a lot of them have grown up with that.”

Lifeson added, “blah, blah, blah... “

 

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Watch: Pearl Jam's Mike McCready reveals his favorite Heart song

Watch: Pearl Jam's Mike McCready reveals his favorite Heart song

Who else does he really want inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready helped usher fellow Seattle-ites Heart into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Thursday night. He played with Ann and Nancy Wilson and the rest of the band following their heartfelt acceptance speech as the group ripped through ferocious versions of “Crazy On You” and “Barracuda” as well as a tender “Dreamboat Annie”

McCready came backstage and I asked him what his favorite Heart song was and what the pioneering rock band  had meant to him growing up.  His answer is in the video.

Though it’s not included in the video, McCready was also asked what he thought his chances were for Pearl Jam getting into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  (If you want to feel old, PJ will actually be eligible within the new few years: an act is eligible 25 years after its first recording is released).

McCready replied “you never know,” but added that he was really rooting for Kiss to get in and pulled back his jacket to reveal a Kiss button.  Hey Mike, we’re thinking Pearl Jam will get in before Kiss... or maybe you can go in the same year.

Joining Heart in the class of 2013 were Albert King, Rush, Public Enemy, Randy Newman, Lou Adler, Quincy Jones, and Donna Summer.

Read HitFix's live-blog commentary of the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony here.

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