AFTER more than 50 years of performing, you would think Sir Tom Jones would be used to receiving praise and accolades for his work.
But for the past six years the Welsh icon has received some of the best reviews of his stellar career after he returned to his roots and the style of music that began a journey that has seen him sell more than 100 million records around the world.
“The last three albums have been critically acclaimed, and one critic in England said ‘I’m hearing Tom Jones for the first time’,” Jones told the Mercury.
“I must be sounding more natural or something. Something is coming through that has not been shown before.”
His three albums since 2010 — Praise & Blame, Spirit In The Room (2012) and last year’s Long Lost Suitcase — saw Jones strip back his sound and work with limited instruments and enhancements and form a strong working relationship with renowned producer and musician Ethan Johns.
“When I had a meeting with Ethan he said ‘What about if we go into the studio and you pick some songs that you want to sing and I’ll suggest some things and we’ll go in with a small rhythm section and try things out’,” Jones said.
“And I said ‘That sounds like when I was back in Wales and I had a band. Before we would go and play the workman’s clubs, we would be putting the songs together and trying them out and seeing what was happening’.
“So it’s like that. It’s almost like starting over again. It’s a new thing. Even though it’s a traditional way of doing stuff, you know trial and error. But it’s all live.”
Long Lost Suitcase has a very personal connection for Jones, because the album accompanies his first ever autobiography, Over The Top And Back: The Autobiography, which was also released last year.
“When I was recording it, Ethan said it sounds biographical,” Jones said.
“[He said] ‘You’re picking songs that mean stuff to you in different times of your life’, and I said ‘Yes, and I’m writing a book’.
“So we wanted to get the both of them out at the same time because they both complement one another. And that’s it. Some of the chapters in the book are the titles of the songs, so it goes together.”
One track, Elvis Presley Blues, has special significance to Jones due to his close relationship with Presley.
“I knew Elvis Presley very well [and] I wanted to [perform it] when I heard this song,” he said.
“A lady called Gillian Welch wrote this song and I thought what a great song, and then I tried to do it a couple of years ago but we didn’t quite get it because it was more like what she had already done with it.
“So Ethan said ‘Why don’t I just play guitar and you sing it and let’s see what we can get, rather than put other instruments on there. Let’s get it down to the bare bones.’ And it worked. And I played it to [Presley’s widow] Priscilla Presley and she said it is a haunting tribute to Elvis, so that means a lot to me because I knew him.”
Jones returns to Tasmania next Thursday night for the first time in six years as part of his national tour. He will perform a variety of songs from his most recent albums, plus some of his biggest worldwide hits, including It’s Not Unusual, What’s New Pussycat, Sex Bomb and the theme song to the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball.
“I do those songs because they were big and people have enjoyed listening to them,” Jones explained.
“And I think the audience deserves to hear them. I try to keep them in a fresh way to make them more interesting. I don’t believe in ‘Oh well, this is what I do now and I’m not going to do any of the old ones’. I’m not for that.
“I think the audience deserves to hear things that they’re familiar with, as well as some of the newer things.”
Jones says that, at the end of the end, it’s still all about the music when it comes to performing in front of a live audience.
“I get as much of a kick playing a 2000-seat theatre as opposed to a 20,000-seater,” he said.
“As long as I have my musicians with me and the sound is good and the people are there then I’m satisfied, and I’ll do the best job I can to get the people to enjoy themselves.
“That’s what I’m there for. I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t. That’s what I love to do.”
Tom Jones performs at the Derwent Entertainment Centre from 8pm on March 17. Tickets start at $101.73 and are available from http://www.ticketmaster.com.au
This article was originally written for The Mercury. You can read the published version here