Arise Sir Tom
I didn't really understand a lot of the hoopla around Tom Jones. He was a big star in the sixties and he had some remarkable success. But when I heard of his collaborations with dance producers and various pop whizz kids it made me feel, well, slightly depressed. There's a lot on the world of popular music that does depress me and I'm pleased to say I don't ever have to deal with it in this blog or on the AC as there's too much good stuff to celebrate. But in this particular blog I need to explain a Damascene conversion more remarkable than even the great stalwarts of the Labour Party's conversion to membership of the upper chamber. Folks...I'm loving where Tom Jones has found himself and for that reason I'm pleased to say he is a returning star to the Another Country gallery of great guests.
I knew the inside track on this story a little from a friend who is working within Tom's management office so I was not completely surprised when I heard the few tracks for Praise and Blame. However I know enough of the story to know that no one - including label or management quite knew what to expect. Ethan Johns - the man who has produced both Praise and Blame and the new Spirit In The Room is a man with a serious pedigree. Having produced seminal albums for Ryan Adams and Ray LaMontagne as well as many others he was in a position to dictate his own terms. From my inside knowledge I understand the most surprising aspect was that no one outside of Tom, Ethan and the immediate circle was allowed in. No one knew how long the process was going to take and it was all the more surprising when the smoke went up the chimney within a couple of weeks to say - "Our work here is finished."
When Praise and Blame started to appear on our radar there were a number of people expressing love and admiration for the record. Although the song choice was less than impeccable (a little too many songs had been done by others for my liking) nevertheless, as in all successful albums, there was one song which stopped you in your tracks and made you want to play it to all your pals. For me that was Tom's quite stunning version of Bob Dylan's "What Good Am I?" Although I'd liked the song it had never appeared as visceral and human as on the Tom version and something in the voice of this septuagenarian reflecting on his own path made me stop and reflect that this indeed was a very special performance.
The highlight of all this for me came in January of last year when Tom and his band performed the entire album as a piece of work at our own Celtic Connections. It was perfect.
I was therefore delighted to announce that Tom had not only done it again but, in all honesty, surpassed himself on Spirit In the Room. There's so much to enjoy of the new record and again a heart stoppingly brilliant interpretation of a previously overlooked song - Leonard Cohen's Tower of Song. The second half of Friday night's show will be Tom Jones and myself talking it all through. There's much to learn friends - and it's all good.
I'm writing this on my (long) way home from Nashville. As ever it rekindled the flame that always burns for country. highlights were seeing Stonewall Jackson with Marty Stuart, working with some great, great songwriters and hearing some brilliant country songs I'd never heard before on the radio. Look out for Josh Turner, Don Williams and the other man from Memphis on Friday. It all starts at five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland.