Japan will have to wait for a spell. The Petri Dish, you see, is black and white and Tom Jones all over. Not that it hasn't already been, once or twice. But a couple of especially great reasons for it have popped up recently.
Firstly, the leather-lunged Welsh Wonder's album 24 Hours just dropped. And it's nothing short of phenomenal, a glorious crystallization of everything that is life-affirming and great about The Man and his voice.
On the face of it, this new release follows the basic template of most of Jones's discs since the mid-nineties--original tunes gilded by a few well-chosen covers, all garnished by those world-class pipes--but 24 Hours presents the formula to perfection. Much as I adore The Man's body of work, it's often necessary to do some wheat-from-chaff separation on his records. Here, every track just knocks it outta the park.
The new tunes (quite a few co-written by Sir Tom hisself) are a revelation. Many of them capture the escapist fairy-dust of his best sixties output--the swath of warm horns punctuating "If He Should Ever Leave You" and the loping Stax-Volt groove of "Give a Little Love" add vintage texture, even as the sharp modern Future Cut production keeps those elements from feeling transparently retro. The masterful title track, meanwhile, presents a stark and empathetic elegy to a fallen soldier, delivered by Jones with quiet drama and subtlety.
The Man can still belt it out, of course (he works Tommy James and the Shondells' "I'm Alive" into fighting Memphis Soul trim), but he's learned how to temper that force-of-nature voice brilliantly when the song calls for it. On Bruce Springsteen's wrenching boxer's-eye-view story-song "The Hitter," the burnished roughness of those distinctive pipes builds the story of the bloodied-but-unbowed title character with cinematic texture, and Jones delivers the lilting bossa-nova shuffle of "We Got Love" with the most gentle of touches.
All that, AND Tom Jones still packs 24 Hours with enough testosterone to fertilize half the eastern seaboard. He earns his God of Pump mantle in spades on the awesome U2-co-written "Sugar Daddy," a funky strut that lays out The Man's libidinous mission statement with bad-assed confidence. "You don't send a boy to do a man's job," he growls. Damn straight.
The second big item of import on the Jones front comes this Saturday. You see, I'll be interviewing Tom Jones...Sort of.
Sir Tom will be on NPR Radio's Saturday Weekend Edition, answering questions from fans about his life and career. One of those lucky fans will be me, so you'll actually get to hear yours truly chat up The God of Pump for a scant minute or two. Exact air time of the segment is still TBD: Stay tuned for more details. Oh, and run--no, sprint like Bicentennial-era Bruce Jenner--to your nearest retailer for a copy of 24 Hours. Yer a blasted fool if you don't.