The 40th studio album by blue-eyed soul singer Sir Tom Jones is a collection of songs about struggling with faith penned by singer-songwriters and blues greats. Ethan Johns, producer of Jones’s 2010 blues/gospel album Praise & Blame, this time booked Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Bath, England. The studio’s “wood room” has fieldstone walls, wooden ceiling beams, and extremely live acoustics. Everyone involved felt a special energy, a “Spirit In The Room.” Johns’s energetic, mostly acoustic production is, tinted with atmospheric reverb and distortion. Jones, who could easily become jaded after 36 hits over nearly 50 years, sings with fresh urgency and satisfying authenticity.
He delivers Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” as one who clearly knows the sometimes awful price of hanging onto stardom. On both “Bad As Me” (Tom Waits, Kathleen Brennan) and “Traveling Shoes” (which Jones co-wrote with his producer), the singer skillfully uses a repetitive lyric, typical in good soul music, to build a burning, vital performance. Recommended downloads: “Hit or Miss,” the late, great Odetta’s celebration of individuality; Richard Thompson’s “Dimming Of The Day,” a classic in acoustic circles; Mickey Newbury’s “Just Dropped In,” about the spiritual side-effects of recreational medications; and “Soul of a Man” (Blind Willie Johnson).
– Annie Dinerman