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Album Review: Tom Jones' 'Spirit In the Room'

Album Review: Tom Jones' 'Spirit In the Room'

Are he and Ethan Johns the next Rick Rubin/Johnny Cash?

Tom Jones has, thankfully, never faded away since his sexy, swinging success of the ‘60s, and every decade or so, he has a resurgence.

In 1989, hipsters embraced Jones through his kicky remake of Prince’s “Kiss” with The Art of Noise. Then in 1999, he scored a dance hit with “Sexbomb.”

This latest wave, though somewhat lower profile, started in 2008 with “24 Hours,” his first album of all new material in the U.S. in 15 years. He covered such wildly divergent material as Bruce Springsteen’s “The Hitter,”  and “Sugar Daddy” (written by Bono and The Edge), as well as performed a number of his own compositions.

That whet people’s appetites for 2010’s “Praise & Blame,” his first pairing with producer Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon, Ray LaMontagne). Unlike “24 Hours,” which had a little silliness along with depth, “Praise & Blame” aimed to give Jones a certain gravitas afforded folks like Johnny Cash with his Rick Rubin/American Recordings set. And it worked. The collection of gospel covers received wildly enthusiastic reviews. The song reached No. 2 on the U.K. Albums Chart.

So the pump was primed for another set between the sympatico Jones and Johns and they have delivered in a big way with “Spirit in the Room,” out today (23).

While the pair have broadened the parameters —these songs are more about the human spirit and the human condition than religious tunes, though there’s plenty of spirituality here— the guidelines remain the same: let Jones’ voice fully carry the album because, at 72, he still can. His vocals are vital and robust here. Surround him with songs that will be familiar to some and new to others, but none were such big hits (with the possible exception of Mickey Newbury’s ‘60s hit, “Just Dropped in”) that the originals will loom large.

In almost all cases, Johns has opted to give Jones’ voice as little accompaniment as possible because it’s still so rich and supple that it never needs a place to hide. The one  place that differs is on The Low Anthem’s gorgeous “Charlie Darwin.” The original features layered gossamer vocals. Instead, Johns adds a choir that gives the song an even more otherworldly feel.

Jones drops all the schmaltz —to be fair, he hasn’t relied on that in a long time— and lays his sins bare, especially on a scarily menacing remake of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man.”  He takes Tom Waits’ deliciously devilish “Bad As Me” and turns up the heat as he relishes in finding someone who shares his same demons. Just listen to his cackle.

Conversely, there are songs of great tenderness, including his cover of Bob Dylan's  “When The Deal Goes Down, “ rendered as an accordion-and optigan-bolstered waltz so smooth and genteel you could practically ice skate to it.

Not only does Johns have a sure hand as producer, his guitar work here—on slide and electric— adds a Spaghetti Western feel to many of the tracks, giving them a cinematic feel, especially on Joe Henry’s swampy and haunting “All Blues Hail Mary.”

Some artists just get better and better with age and just as Jones has let his naturally gray hair shine through over the last few years instead of dying it black, there seems to be the same kind of authenticity in his songs. He pours every one of his 72 years’ worth of experience and pain and hurt and joy into these songs.

 

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<p>&quot;Duck Dynasty.&quot;</p>

"Duck Dynasty."

Credit: A&E

'Duck' blinders: When sitcom tropes and reality TV characters collide on 'Duck Dynasty'

How much reality is required for today's biggest 'unscripted' hits?

It's a popular trope in science fiction to ask at what level of artificiality does a person stop being a person. If you have a prosthetic leg, you're still you, but if you're down to only a few original organs — or if your brain gets put into a robot body — is that still the case?

I've found myself thinking of those questions, oddly, while watching some recent episodes of "Duck Dynasty." The reality show about a Louisiana family who sell duck hunting merchandise is a monster hit, drawing ratings — last week's episode attracted 8.6 million viewers and a whopping 3.9 rating among adults 18-49 — that puts it in the same neighborhood as the most popular shows on the broadcast networks. NBC would kill to have a sitcom do 2/3 as well as "Duck Dynasty." In fact, the only comedies on any networks doing those kinds of numbers are "Big Bang Theory," "Modern Family" and "Two and a Half Men."

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<p>A scene from &quot;A Villa in Italy.&quot;</p>

A scene from "A Villa in Italy."

Credit: SBS Productions

Cannes Check 2013: Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi's 'A Villa in Italy'

We begin sizing up the Competition at next month's Cannes Film Festival

Welcome to Cannes Check, your annual guide through the 19 films in Competition at next month's Cannes Film Festival, which kicks off on May 15. Taking on a different selection every day, we'll be examining what they're about, who's involved and what their chances are of snagging an award from Steven Spielberg's jury. We're going through the list by director and in alphabetical order -- meaning actress-turned-director Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi is first up with "A Villa in Italy." 

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<p>I dunno... this all seems really dark for a Hanz &amp;&nbsp;Frank reboot.</p>

I dunno... this all seems really dark for a Hanz & Frank reboot.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Review: Uneven 'Pain & Gain' gives Dwayne Johnson a career-best role

Funny and rude and out of control, is this an evolution of the 'Michael Bay' movie?

Michael Bay is one of the few overtly, blatantly, unapologetically amoral filmmakers working in mainstream Hollywood.

I think a lot of what passes as moral material in mainstream cinema is phony, grafted on without sincerity. When someone learns something about themselves in a movie, more often than not, it's complete bullshit. I have always preferred films that challenge me to have my own reaction to something, that trust me to navigate my own way through a work. I don't mind the big broad strokes of filmmakers working in archetype. I'm all for great bad guys and perfect good guys, as long as it's done well, but I'm equally okay with just watching sociopathic dummies screw up terrible plans.

Good thing, too, because "Pain and Gain" fits that bill exactly. Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely deserve credit for writing what feels like a tailor-made Michael Bay movie. Mark Wahlberg stars as Daniel Lugo, a guy who is the perfect customer for the self-help market. He wants to be a success. He wants to be famous. He wants to be a big man in his community. He wants every bit of the American Dream, and he doesn't want to work for it. He expects it. He believes he has a right to it.

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<p>Thor does not look like he's got it easy in 'Thor:&nbsp;The Dark&nbsp;World,' which arrives in theaters this November.</p>

Thor does not look like he's got it easy in 'Thor: The Dark World,' which arrives in theaters this November.

Credit: Marvel Studios

First trailer for 'Thor: The Dark World' promises a return to Asgard and beyond

Old foes, new faces, and the possibility of a broken heart all play into the sequel

Phase Two is in full swing.

While I can't say what I thought of it, I did see "Iron Man 3" over the weekend, and I conducted interviews with the cast of the film and with producer Kevin Fiege and director Shane Black. Now that we've seen three stand-alone adventures for Iron Man, it's about time for the first sequels to the other films that helped introduce the Avengers start to roll in, and it should surprise absolutely no one that the trailer for "Thor: The Dark World" will be on the front of "Iron Man 3" when it arrives in theaters.

Thankfully, it's online now, and it gives us our first taste of what to expect as Alan Taylor ("Game Of Thrones") takes over as director. Chris Hemsworth is back, as are Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Stevenson, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard, Jaimie Alexander, and Idris Elba. Zachary Levi steps in for the departing Josh Dallas as Fandral, and there's a new bad guy in the form of Christopher Eccleston as Malekith.

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<p>Monday's &quot;The Following&quot;</p>

Monday's "The Following"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'The Following' - 'The End Is Near'

In its penultimate episode, 'The Follow' ups the body count
Readers, I have a confession to make. I have been wrong about "The Following" this whole time. Completely wrong. Absolutely wrong. A critic's worst nightmare, the totally inaccurate judgment call. Up until now, I've assumed that when an episode has more content, it means that it's better -- the fast pace tends to elide "The Following"'s major dialogue issues, and the bloody, violent action, as reprehensible as it is, moves the warmed-over, half-dead plot a few staggering steps forward.
 
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"What Would Ryan Lochte Do?"

 "What Would Ryan Lochte Do?"

Credit: E!

'What Would Ryan Lochte Do?' Good question, but don't ask him

The swimmer tries to play the nice guy but even he's not convinced

I was going to review the new E! series "What Would Ryan Lochte Do?" last night. But then I thought, well, what would Ryan Lochte do?

With that in mind, I decided to wait until right now. Ryan Lochte, after all, doesn't have to show up to any party on time. Equipped with his own roving Lochterage (the members of whom, apparently, live in their own Lochtenation -- I am not making this stuff up), it seems that the Olympic swimmer might show up fashionably late to everything except a swim meet. 

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<p>Simon Pegg, Craig Robinson, and Sandra Bullock are all part of this week's countdown of the most anticipated movies for Summer 2013</p>

Simon Pegg, Craig Robinson, and Sandra Bullock are all part of this week's countdown of the most anticipated movies for Summer 2013

Credit: Focus Features/Sony Pictures/20th Century Fox

Summer 2013 Most Anticipated #15-11: 'The World's End,' 'This Is The End,' 'The Heat'

Is 'Frances Ha' a black and white version of 'Girls'?

So far, we've had a very healthy mix of movies in the countdown of the 25 most anticipated movies for the Summer of 2013, and there's been some controversy about the ranking of some of these choices.

The thing to remember here is that we've voted on this as a group, and the results surprised us as much as they seem to be surprising you. I never would have expected that the follow-up to "The Avengers" would rank so low, but I think I understand why. Anticipation is based at least in part on the desire to be surprised, to have something new happen. And while sequels are part of the fun of summer, there's also a hope that most movie fans harbor that something new is going to sneak up on them as well.

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<p>Janelle Monae performs at Coachella.</p>

Janelle Monae performs at Coachella.

Credit: John Shearer/Invision/AP

Listen: Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu have something to say on 'Q.U.E.E.N'

And you're going to hear them out

Janelle Monae, who’s coming off two very successful performances at Coachalla,  has had it with any of your preconceived notions about her, whether it’s because she’s a woman or because she’s black or which god she does or doesn’t believe in, or for any other reason you want to throw at her. Save your time.

There’s a confidence, swagger and attitude on her new single, "Q.U.E.E.N." that Monae has previously kept hidden, or maybe all her success from the past few years has brought a new boldness, either way, it’s ferocious.

[More after the jump...]

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"The Voice"

 "The Voice"

Credit: NBC

NBC Summer Press Day: Blake Shelton, Adam Levine talk smack, 'The Voice'

Shakira and Usher join the joking around, too

When Shakira, Adam Levine, Usher and Blake Sheldon get together in a room, it doesn't seem to matter if there's a video camera rolling. The group, joined by executive producer Mark Burnett, host Carson Daly and "social media correspondent" Christina Milian, quickly settled into a grove of ribbing one another. When asked about scripted versus unscripted content, Burnett shrugged, "It just matters that it's good," which inspired Daly to start the joking around.

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<p>Halle Berry seems pleased to be suited up once again as Storm for Bryan Singer's 'Days Of Future Past'</p>

Halle Berry seems pleased to be suited up once again as Storm for Bryan Singer's 'Days Of Future Past'

Credit: Bryan Singer

Bryan Singer reveals Halle Berry's new look as Storm for 'Days Of Future Past'

Yep... that's pretty much what we'd expect

One thing seems very clear at this point: Bryan Singer is excited to be back in the world of the X-Men.

Little by little, Singer's been using social media to release sneak peeks behind the scenes as he's been preparing to begin production on "X-Men: Days Of Future Past," the latest chapter in an increasingly odd franchise that features plenty of digressions and a semi-reboot right in the middle of things. When Singer left the series, it was a difficult professional moment for him, and it also left Fox in the lurch unexpectedly. When it happened, I would have bet that there was no chance Singer would ever return to the series.

What makes this return especially exciting is how it looks like he's enjoying himself so much. I feel like Singer has been struggling to define himself more often than not over the course of his career. He made such a huge splash with "The Usual Suspects," and his first "X-Men" may have helped kick off the current new wave of superhero cinema, but he has still managed to evade any particular directorial voice, and it's actually somewhat frustrating. I don't think every filmmaker has to have a particular unique voice, but Singer is a guy who seems to want to be thought of as an auteur of sorts, and it doesn't feel like he's ever really figured out what it is that matters to him about the films he makes.

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"America's Got Talent"

 "America's Got Talent"

Credit: NBC

NBC Summer Press Day: Stern, Klum, Mel B joke about 'America's Got Talent'

Heidi Klum takes center stage, but Howard Stern grabs focus

Though many of the panels at the NBC Summer Press Day have been sedate to the point of sleepy (with the exception of an annoying squeaking chicken for the Sprout kids' network), things became much more lively when the judges of "America's Got Talent" took the stage. When the initial questions were aimed at new judge Heidi Klum, returning judge Howard Stern had no problem making his opinion about that known.

When Klum explained how she was juggling "AGT" with her existing schedule, Stern said, "You're gonna judge, but you're gonna be neglecting your children." When Klum countered that wouldn't be the case, he kept gleefully hammering away. "You're gonna bring the kids while we're doing the show? All, like, ten of them? That's gonna be fun."

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