Tom Jones [1963]

Tom is terrific throughout This is Tom Jones, a collection culled from the Welsh singer's late '60s-early '70s ABC television series. Subtitled Rock 'n' Roll Legends, this three-disc set spotlights eight separate episodes (one of which, featuring a performance of "Pinball Wizard" by the Who, is a black & white kinescope). None is complete; judicious (and sometimes not) editing limits the focus to the musical and comedic portions, and that's by and large a good thing. Jones, who was just 28 when the first show aired in February, 1969, displays remarkable versatility, taking on everything from Broadway ("Somewhere," with Leslie Uggams) and torch standards ("Angel Eyes") to stone R&B (Bobby "Blue" Bland's "Turn on Your Lovelight"), soul ("In the Midnight Hour"), pop ("What's New, Pussycat?" and, of course, "It's Not Unusual"), and rock ("Lodi," "Lucille") and doing a credible job on all of it, notwithstanding a patina of Vegas glitz. But the high points come from his partnerships with the titular legends, especially Janis Joplin (their duet on Eddie Floyd's "Raise Your Hand" rocks) and Aretha Franklin (then at the peak of her powers, Aretha is fine on "I Say a Little Prayer," but her volcanic pairing with Jones on "See Saw" and her own, gospel-tinged "Spirit in the Dark" is the undoubted high point of the entire DVD set). Jones also duets with Joe Cocker ("Delta Lady"), Little Richard (a medley of his classics), Stevie Wonder (then on the verge of his '70s creative explosion), and Burt Bacharach; and while appearances by comedians like Peter Sellers, a then-unknown Richard Pryor, Pat Paulsen, the Committee (with Howard Hesseman), and the Ace Trucking Company (with Fred Willard) deliver a few chuckles, in the end, this one's all about the music. Jones introduces each episode with a brief reminiscence; a 2007 interview with the singer is among the scant other bonus material. --Sam Graham

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