Tom Jones

Never Better

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Tom Jones duets with a dazzling array of big names on 16 classic tracks, but what could have been a phenomenal catalog item comes off more like a day at New York producer Ed Chalpin's Dimensional Sound Studios doing knock-off cover versions of famous tunes. On paper, Dusty Springfield performing the Diana Ross hit "Upside Down" with Jones sounds like a winner, but the lack of production does it in. Perhaps the person who recorded this concoction was missing in action. To be somewhat kind, this is all very pleasant keyboard-heavy MIDI Muzak, but then again, how can an album boasting Isaac Hayes, Lola Falana, Juliet Prowse, Teddy Pendergrass, Tina Turner, and so many others completely fail? That is, until you get to the undisputed truth : Elton John's Duets was so superbly put together that similar projects must try to equal or better that endeavor. And there's no room for a clunker, which Never Better has in an absolutely dreadful version of "Nights on Broadway," featuring Paul Anka and Jones in a light that is less than flattering. Chaka Khan gets the nod for the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out," and it won't frighten the listener like Jones pairing up with Donny Osmond on "Girl From New York City" might when that little gem appears in the credits. It actually isn't half bad, but poor Pendergrass gets lost in the keyboard quagmire that is something slightly resembling "Takin' It to the Streets." Lynn Anderson is pleasant enough on "Whenever I Call You 'Friend,'" but it hardly comes close to Melissa Manchester's sublime album track of the song she co-wrote with the artist who had a hit with it, Kenny Loggins. Never Better's best moments get lost in the translation. Can someone get the vocal tracks and put them in a setting talents like this deserve? You get what you pay for, and Jones' legacy is not enhanced by something Sinatra did so much better while in his twilight. Jones is a major talent, and this CD gives him an excuse to go do something incredible. Correct that -- this CD demands Tom Jones deliver the product he's capable of.

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