The panties thrown at Tom Jones these days should be the size of parachutes. But Jones, who turned 70 in June, has built an audience made up of the granddaughters of his original fans by covering Prince's "Kiss" with Art of Noise in 1988 and recording his 1999 album Reload with the Cardigans, Portishead, and Stereophonics. Plus, the dude is aging with elegance and grace. Amazing grace, as it happens. Jones' latest album, Praise & Blame, is a raw, raucous, gospel-drenched, soul-infused marvel. Jones has long claimed Mahalia Jackson as an early influence, and he proves it conclusively on Praise & Blame, a collection of traditional and contemporary songs about salvation. The set opens with a reflective acoustic take on Bob Dylan's "What Good Am I," with Jones' voice exhibiting equal measures of restraint and power over a tribal pulse. It's followed by "Lord Help," an explosion of snarling blues electricity. Jones goes pure gospel in "Did Trouble," swings with chapel-rattling force in "Strange Things Happen Every Day," and tears into John Lee Hooker's "Burning Hell" with a visceral glee, while his robust and defiant version of "Ain't No Grave" stands in stark contrast to Johnny Cash's end-of-life resignation. Give thanks, indeed: Praise & Blame stands among Jones' best work. — Brian Baker
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