Children fortunate enough to be reared in Wales are taught three things. They are taught to love rugby, the sport of gentlemen such as Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams and Ray Gravell. They are taught to hold their noses when they cross the Severn Bridge. And lastly, they are taught to love and revere Tom Jones.
Despite experiencing this very upbringing, my knowledge of Tom Jones was, until recently, quite limited. Everyone knows he’s the man who sang Delilah, the unofficial anthem of Welsh rugby and, for some reason, Stoke’s football team. It is also common knowledge that he is a former judge on The Voice, recently ousted by the eccentric and slightly terrifying Boy George. And those who are old enough will remember him as the crooning sex symbol regularly showered with women’s underwear whilst on stage. A quick Google search tells me this hurling of undies was still going on as recently as 2014. This says a lot about the undying pulling power of the 75-year-old Welshman. However, this is all I really knew about a man who is as essential a part of the fabric of Welsh identity as coal mining and the S4C.
It was necessary, then, to listen back to some of his original work before listening to his new album, Long Lost Suitcase, to get an idea of how it should be listened to. As well as inspiring an urge to seductively drape my vest over the laptop, his music catalogue was noticeably eclectic in terms of style. His powerful booming voice is the same across the board, but the backing music swings from rock to soul to dance and to country at will. This versatility is also a component of Long Lost Suitcase; the album is a tad disjointed, with country music worthy of Hank Williams followed by blues-rock and Led Zeppelin-esque rock. This is not a criticism of the album; it is a very good listen, featuring great songs and illuminating the various musical influences of a man now in the twilight of a glistening career. It is more of a commentary on how the songs are not particularly connected, a list of songs rather than a collective sound.
The first three songs sum up this variety of sounds well. The album begins slowly, with Opportunity To Cry singing the blues to an acoustic guitar. The melancholy thump of a bass drum gives a Jonny Cash vibe, leading to the more country-orientated songs that follow. Honey, Honey is the epitome of this; it is finger-picking country at its finest, Sir Tom harmonising with Imelda May to an accompaniment that sounds like the banjo-playing child in Deliverance. However, before the album gets pigeonholed as country, the hillbilliness gives way to Blues Brothers rock. In Take My Love (I Want To Give It) Jones sings over the twelve-bar blues, with an electric guitar solo marking the end of the country style for now. This demonstrates the various pit stops and tangents the album takes on the way. Other highlights are I Wish You Would, a sound so familiar I had to check it wasn’t a Led Zeppelin cover, the haunting Elvis Presley Blues and Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used To? The latter is a short, jaunty reminder of the vast country Western influence from which Sir Tom derives his own style.
Overall, this album doesn’t do anything new. It completes the trilogy of albums the Welsh singer had been working on recently, and affectionately nods back to various influences and stages of his own career. It is not however revelatory, ground-breaking new material; it has been done before in a career that’s spanned fifty years. That said, there are very good songs in the album, without a bad one of which to speak, and just as I will always watch repeats of Friends on Comedy Central, so too will I appreciate repeated musical material if it’s produced by an artist of such vast ability and charisma.