Sunday, January 19, 2014
Tom Jones - Live at Caesar's Palace (1971)
In many ways, Live at Caesar's Palace succeeds where many live albums fail; It is as good as a studio album. Oddly enough, the recording is more like an authorized bootleg than a typical album. That's not to say that the album has bad sound, just that we get to hear the banter of Tom Jones with the rowdy crowd and get a sense of the concert environment. The album opens with an introduction over the loudspeaker with the band playing a segue into "The Dance of Love," an uptempo number that not only showcases Jones but the talents of his band from the driving feeling of the guitar and bass to the impressive low register playing in the trombone section. The next track, "Cabaret," is a good example of how the album covers an eclectic variety of music albeit with Jones's trademark. Jones and his soulful vocals are definitely a focus of the song, but this is one of the stronger arrangements on the album with the horns being featured prominently. Immediately after "Cabaret" ends, we hear Jones giving his introduction mixed in with some playful flirtatiousness. The next track, "Soul Man," has Jones exploring his R&B side. Jones may be a white Welshman, but he definitely has the style down. After this song closes, there is more banter, this time probably slightly racier. However, most of the raciest material was probably edited out of the recording. Keep in mind, this is the concert where women threw their panties and room keys on stage, so the craziest stuff is not present. The next track, "I (Who Have Nothing)," is the first ballad on the album and probably the style that Jones is most associated with along with the uptempo rock numbers like "It's Not Unusual" or "She's a Lady." The end of this track showcases his vocal abilities as he closes the track in a drawn-out operatic manner, much different than the earlier studio version. As this track ends, we hear a heckler shout out "Delilah." Interestingly, this is the next track, but due to the unknowns of editing, maybe the track order was changed around to make this work. Maybe Tom Jones gave into a heckler. There is audience interaction where a woman asks Jones for his tie, and then into the next track "Delilah." This is a personal favorite for a few reasons. The brass sections in this tune are great, the transition from 4/4 to a 3/4 waltz feel during the chorus, and it is amazing that someone got away with writing and recording a song about killing a cheating girlfriend. After the second chorus listen for the trumpet section playing their riff. The first time is like the studio version, but is followed by the lead trumpeter Bobby Shew taking his part up on octave. After the end of "Delilah," there is more more banter, this time slightly awkward as Jones is talking to a young girl about her mother. The following two tracks, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "My Way," are both ballads albeit from different musical traditions. Jones's success on ballads are partly due to his proper vocal technique. He is definitely a baritone, but he uses proper air support to sing into the tenor range and pull off those long held notes. "My Way" is definitely one of the strongest ballads on the album. Make sure you listen to the embellishment at the end of the piece where he goes to a higher note than the original before landing on the end note. The following track "God Bless the Children," is one of the weaker tracks on the album in my opinion. It just seems too stylistically removed from Jones's other material. When the horns play the backgrounds during the choruses (except the first), they sound very reminiscent of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." They aren't rhythmically connected, but the chord voicings are very similar. Following this tune we get introduced to some of the band including lead trumpeter Bobby Shew, drummer Kenny Clare, bassist John Rostill, background vocalists, guitarist Big Jim Sullivan, and conductor/arranger Johnnie Spence, with the instrumentalists taking solos after their introductions. Shew most likely was part of the Caesar's Palace house band with the "rock part" of the band travelling with Jones. House bands at Vegas at the time were some of the best in the country as many musicians tired of the road in big bands would leave a band in Vegas and settle down as Vegas had the best wages for a musician. Kenny Clare is notable for his solo, as well generally unknown, he has quite a history with a number of jazz musicians. In my opinion, his playing is kind of reminiscent of Buddy Rich. The following two tracks, "Resurrection Shuffle" and "She's a Lady," are both great uptempo numbers leading up to the three tracks that make up a sort of climax of the album. The three next tracks, "Till," "Hit Medley," and Hi Heel Sneakers are a climax of the album in that they seem to get an amazing positive reaction from the audience. The first, "Till," is a soulful ballad ending on an impressive held note that lasts for around twelve seconds. "Hit Medley" is just a short compendium of Jones popular songs of the time, but is worth a listen to hear the variations from the original studio versions. "Hi Heel Sneakers" begins with the crowd going wild and really adding a lot of energy to an already energetic track. The album closes with "Rock n' Roll Medley," a group of songs from the 1950s that Jones opens with "Well, when I was just a little boy/ My one and only joy/ Was listening to that good old rock n' roll' But, now that I'm a man/ I still get all the kicks I can/ Listening to that good old rock n' roll." I'm curious if Jones wrote this short introduction given his personal history of contracting tuberculosis as a child. It was during this two year isolation that he would sign along with records, and consequently began him on his career as a singer. I typically don't listen to a lot of vocalist-centered albums, but I think Jones has a great sense of style and his albums typically have an eclecticism that lend to interesting listening.