Never thought I’d be writing about Sir Tom Jones on here. As I suspect is the case with many of us, after the double whammy of “It’s Not Unusual” in Mars Attacks and the ubiquitous euro-pop smash “Sex Bomb,” he faded from my radar screen. That is, outside of a couple bits in an Elvis biography (the two were very much contemporaries during EP’s Vegas phase). But this past week the maestro put out quite a doozie of a gospel record, Praise and Blame, produced by none other than Ryan Adams/Kings of Leon/son-of-Glyn guru Ethan Johns. It’s Jones’ version of a American Recordings project – stripped down and back-to-basics. At least, if by “basics” you mean hard-core gospel covers: highlights include “Lord Help”, “If I Give My Soul”, “Did Trouble Me” and, of course, “Burning Hell.” Talking about the record, Jones had this priceless soundbite:

“I wanted to make a gospel album, and I thought, ‘Wait a minute, it’s going to be Christian’. And then I thought, ‘Well I am a Christian!’ I’m sorry, but I am!”

The opening track is a devastating version of Bob Dylan’s devastating Oh Mercy meditation on Romans 7, “What Good Am I?” Jones may look a tad ridiculous these days (still reigning as the tannest Welshman on Earth), but the song is an undeniable shot from the heart. The closing crucifixion reference gets me every time:

What good am I if I’m like all the rest
If I just turn away, when I see how you’re dressed
If I shut myself off so I can’t hear you cry
What good am I?
What good am I if I know and don’t do
If I see and don’t say, if I look right through you
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin’ sky
What good am I?
What good am I while you softly weep
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don’t try
What good am I?
What good am I then to others and me
If I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?
What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?