Recording information: Real World Studios (Box); The Church Studios (London); The Distillery (Bath); Three Crows East (Wiltshire).
Photographers: Chris Ware; Harry Borden; Len Trievnor.
Tom Jones has always been better than the average music snob has been willing to acknowledge. Even when he was making his living as the greatest of all Las Vegas lounge lizards, he had craft, passion, and a desire to deliver for his audience that put his peers to shame. At the age of 75, he's not only singing with all the force, power, and authority he commanded in the '60s and '70s, but he's making the best and most ambitious recordings of his career. Long Lost Suitcase is Jones' third project with producer Ethan Johns, and like 2010's Praise & Blame and 2012's Spirit in the Room, it finds Jones digging into rootsy sounds that give him a chance to indulge his passion for blues, vintage gospel, and R&B. Jones is not a singer who has ever had much use for subtlety, and he performs con brio on these tunes, but when Jones goes big, he has the wisdom to do it for dramatic effect, and if he plays the emotions strong on an acoustic take of "He Was a Friend of Mine," he sells the song with sincerity and belief -- his voice still has the muscle and clarity to let him raise the rafters when he's of a mind. Anyone who doubts Jones' abilities as a blues shouter needs only to turn up the raucous tear through "I Wish You Would" to get set straight, and Jones covers Gillian Welch ("Elvis Presley Blues"), the Rolling Stones ("Factory Girl"), and Los Lobos ("Everybody Loves a Train") while bringing something very much his own to each of them. (Welch may have sung about how Elvis "shook it like a chorus girl," but Jones has the cojones to bring that bump and grind to life.) Balancing transparency and grit with a knowing sense of proportion, Long Lost Suitcase, like the two albums that preceded it, demonstrates Jones' enduring strength as a singer as well as a powerful late-career desire to make music that matters to himself, and it's a powerful and welcome effort from one of pop's most powerful vocalists. No man who can make a record this good needs to be thought of as a guilty pleasure. ~ Mark Deming
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