The biggest spirit in the room for Tom Jones’ new album is, of course, the mighty Welshman himself. Jones, now 71, retains his powerful vocal presence. He doesn’t go full throttle for his Spirit in the Room album’s songs the way he did, for instance, in 1969, but his expression and delivery are unmistakable. A lion in winter, Jones has still got it.
In the reinvention mode of such producers as T Bone Burnett, Rick Rubin, Dan Auerbach and Joe Henry, Jones works with Ethan Johns for their second project together. The first was 2010’s well-received, blues and gospel-based Praise & Blame.
Spirit in the Room is an often minimal affair, all the better to hear the richness that remains in Jones’ voice. He was a 1960s and ’70s sex symbol, but he also proved his soulfulness and storytelling ability way back in 1966 with his haunting rendition of “Green, Green Grass of Home,” a country song previously popularized by Porter Wagoner, sung from the perspective of a remorseful convict condemned to death.
For his latest album, Jones interprets songs by his contemporaries Leonard Cohen (“Tower of Song”), Tom Waits (“Bad As Me”), Bob Dylan (“When the Deal Goes Down”), Paul McCartney, Paul Simon and Richard Thompson.
He also does a marvelous job with Odetta’s “Hit or Miss.” The Odetta song, Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” and other folk-oriented selections suggest that Spirit in the Room is Jones’ folk-roots album. But it’s more than that, making room for chorale singing in “Charlie Darwin” and the psychedelic-rock of Kenny Rogers’ pre-country career hit, “Just Dropped In.”
Spirit in the Room is among the most satisfying older artist-younger producer projects. Not only that, gray suits Jones just fine.
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