#19 – Tom Jones – Praise and Blame, 2010

“Ain’t no grave, gonna hold my body down,”

“when I hear that trumpet sounds, I’m gonna get up out of this ground”.

One of the main reasons I don’t post more blogs, or write more, or play music as much I’d like to, or dedicate enough of my energy as I’d like to for family & friends, is time. Time to think, time to plan, time to think about doing, think about the reasons for not doing, time to do, time to worry about what I did, and on and on and on. More time thinking about things than JFDI.

What if I had to write a blog in 45 minutes? No research, no planning, no editing. Starting….now.

You’d get this:

I don’t believe in God. But I do believe in a lot of what Christian traditions can teach us. The careful study of one piece of important work written up, rather than fleeting attention to hundreds, for example. Being kind to one another, no matter what. Forgiveness. Art. But mostly though, the music. Gospel music.

My choice for this week’s Records & Writing speed blog – in honour of Geraint Thomas’ historic win in the Tour de France this weekend: Tom Jones’ Praise and Blame, a superb blusey-rocky, raw and minimal gospel album. Except there’s no gospel choir (bar a few backing singerson the odd track). Just some pared back rhythm, crunchy guitar riffs and Tom. Oh Tom.

Most blues or rock songs can be reproduced, covered, say, by other artists, with a modicum of talent, and many without. Even some of Tom’s songs. Gospel music is unlikely to sound anything like gospel music, or even a decent song, without a gospel choir.

This album doesn’t have many instruments, complex beats or layered production. It is basic. It is pure. It is everything you want music to do for you when you are feeling miserable as sin, or content as a saint. But it could never be replicated, by anyone, for one simple reason, and that is Tom’s voice.

For all his glorious years selling records and thrilling fans, in my humble, totally biased opinion his voice is most suited to the blues, coupled with these deep, soulful gospel tones delivered here to perfection.

What Good Am I’ builds with sorrow at the start of the album, only to be thrown into reverse by the scorching ‘Lord Help’. ‘Burning Hell’ is the highlight striking fear into the hearts of those of us who are pretty convinced that if we did believe in such a thing, we would almost certainly end up in said fiery abyss even if we claimed it was to sell our soul to the devil to play the blues better. The perkier ‘Didn’t It Rain’ makes you want to dance, ‘Ain’t No Grave’ makes you feel like there is a ‘band of angels coming after me’ with this message of hope.

Unlike James Brown or John Mayall, I’m not sure if Sir Tom has ever been referred to as the Godfather of anything. It’s probably for the best. On this album, he sounds like the Creator Himself, casting down words of guidance to those listening, and damning anyone foolish enough not to be. The penultimate ‘Run On’ reminds you of the roots of rock & roll and the debt that blues music owes to this most wonderful kind of religious gift to the world.

There will never be another singer like Tom Jones. Ever. There will probably never be another Welsh winner of the Tour in my lifetime. Both legends in their own right. Both ‘true Welsh’, true to Wales, always. Tom, Geraint, thank you. It’s almost enough to make you believe…

(blog written in 25 minutes, 10 minutes to upload to Word Press, 5 minutes to listen to the Ethan Johns Wood Room version of Burning Hell at the end of the album)

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