Tom Jones

Spirit in the Room

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Although it isn't the revelation or surprising, extraordinary achievement that his 2010 record Praise & Blame was, Spirit in the Room is another solid, very welcome set of stripped-back interpretations from Tom Jones, produced once again by Ethan Johns, making those comparisons to Johnny Cash's late-period recordings with Rick Rubin all the more fitting. Know that the songbook has changed from classic (spirituals, blues, and traditional numbers) to more contemporary (Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney, the Low Anthem, and others) and that Jones and Johns are both in top form and you've got the picture, along with that same frustration that no matter how fun "What's New Pussycat?" and "Sex Bomb" were, a couple more albums like this along the way would have been rich and rewarding. Jones joins the ranks of singers who have really "felt" Cohen's words in "Tower of Song," here in one of its most naked of performances, but as the dark carnival of Tom Waits' "Bad as Me" gives way to a frail, delicate, and lonely Richard Thompson song, it's obvious this one doesn't have that last one's purposeful layout, at least not until the fourth quarter. Exiting with the off-kilter and brittle "All Blues Hail Mary" (Joe Henry) and the spiritual/secular strangeness that's "Charlie Darwin" (Low Anthem) makes for a compelling suite, and while Spirit in the Room matches its predecessor on a track-by-track level, it's only in those last moments that the whole package seems as thematically sound and well designed.

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