Tom Jones, "Praise & Blame"
What's new, pussycat? How about a devotional album from Tom Jones so unexpected that the Welsh pop icon's disarmed label chief was uttering God's name in varying degrees of vain when he heard about it. But Jones has always been surprising us throughout his four-decade-plus career. And on "Praise & Blame," that gusty Northern soul voice sounds as righteous and true as it does when he's operating in the more carnal regions of his catalog. Producer Ethan Johns gives the 11-song set a rustic "Raising Sand" sound, mixing gospel, rockabilly, folk and blues with guest appearances by Booker T. Jones, Augie Meyers, Benmont Tench, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings and others. Jones skewers sin and seeks salvation on Bob Dylan's "What Good Am I?," Susan Werner's "Did Trouble Me," Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Strange Things," John Lee Hooker's "Burning Hell" and four originals he composed with Johns. "The door's wide open, waitin' for your soul . . . you just walk on in," he sings in Pop Staples' "You Don't Knock." But Jones, of course, swaggers through.