Sunday, February 10, 2019


I saw this when it was first broadcast and thought even then that it was an inspired mismatch of musical sensibilities. Jones is one of the greatest white rhythm and blues singers of all time--range, power, nuance, texture echo Otis Redding, Ray Charles and Solomon Burke with stunning ease and feeling--but he is incapable of just standing still and singing the notes. He oversings this tune--too much melisma on a song requiring a less protective approach is melodramatic, not dramatic, and can seem silly although it is fun to hear Jones give an overwrought reading of the warning that the listener ought to be ready to cut their hair should things get hairy with the Man. A relisten, however, shows the world what should have been obvious to me when I was young, that what Jones has as a voice is truly magnificent, a masculine --not macho--baritone, with range, texture, strength of tone that does not falter on the high notes nor strains nor gargles for grit when navigating the bottom register. And what he has in the center of that voice is pure magic so far as a natural affinity to African American vocal stylizations. Jones may be investing this Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song with more emotional firepower than subject or melody actually need, but it's exciting to witness Jones shoot off fireworks while never quite making the boat capsize or sink. His swooping melismas, his growls, his insertions of gospel-inspired ad-libs and Wilson Pickett grunts and varied exclamations rather compliments what is already a rare occurrence in what amounts to an inane bit of rock and roll history, that CSN and Y actually sound like a band instead of a group of bad actors sullenly fulfilling the terms of the fine print. The reedy harmonies of Graham Nash and Neil Young and the smirking David Crosby give a strange, oddly affecting folk-mass solemnity to Jones' artful bellicosity, and even Steve Stills' stabs at competing with Jones with his addition of soul-inspired call-and-response can't spoil a perfect television moment. The swinging, swank,  tight slacks wearing Jones, that guy who has to keep that pelvis in motion regardless of subject matter, mood or prevailing fashion and decor, get down with The People! Odder things have been aligned, I guess, but not many. Interesting band reactions as well; David Crosby looks amused and looks to be suppressing a snicker, while Stills sounds inspired by Jones' gospel inclinations to be a soul man himself. Neil Young appears thoroughly unamused.i'm not usually interested in specialty albums, the kind of thing that has Rod Stewart singing the Great American Songbook, but I always hoped that Jones would record and release an album of rhythm and blues classics, with select obscurities thrown in. It would have been a transcendent moment, where this white guy from Wales steps away from the Vegas glitter dome and unleash that magnificently authentic voice on the range of songs it was seemingly intended for. There is something of a freak show about Jones, but that was all stage presence, details rehearsed for the spotlight and the cameras. An album might have made listeners forget the absurd trappings surrounding Jones in the media and concentrate on the bed rock emotion of the songs and the voice that would rasp, wail and soar on their emotional core. That would have been a cool thing. Such moments, though, are the stuff of the perfect world that somehow eluded us.

Friend, writer Barry Alfonso offers this:

Thanks for posting this GREAT clip, Ted. It’s just about the best one of CSN&Y I’ve ever seen – for once, their performance as a band seems unified and dynamic, rather than a lapful of undigested egotism. And thanks also for initiating a critical conversation about Tom Jones, a hard-to-place figure on the pop landscape who nevertheless made some wonderful and memorable singles back in the day. What’s amazing about Jones is that his florid amalgam of R&B and Vegas was so sturdy and adaptable, as well as the fact that his souped-up lothario persona could seem cartoonish and exciting at the same time. I wonder why it was so essential to Jones to choose goofily melodramatic material that bordered on pure cheese: “It’s Not Unusual,” “What’s New Pussycat,” “Help Yourself,” “Delilah,” “She’s a Lady,” etc. In the hands of anyone else, these crass ditties would seem totally stupid, a parody of leering lounge-smarm. But Jones had the chops and the charisma to make them fun and triumphant. It was a kind of genius, a unique one at that.

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