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The Tom Jones who stepped onto the Grammy stage in agelessly prime form, going toe-to-toe with Jessie J on “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,'” was the Tom Jones everybody knows: the big-lunged belter of “It’s Not Unusual,” “She’s A Lady,” and “Delilah.” And we love that side of Tom Jones. But over the last few years he’s been revealing and reveling in his gospel, folk, country, and R&B roots with a back-to-basics approach on par with Johnny Cash’s American Recordings. And this stripped-down, more introspective phase of Tom Jones’ career all started with a cover of a particularly dark and obscure Bruce Springsteen song.
Somewhere between a short story and a film treatment, “The Hitter” is the first-person confessional of a troubled boxer, the roots of his violent life, and an attempt at reconciliation (and maybe even redemption). Bruce’s version is a spare, reflective folk ballad, not so much sung as mumbled. But Tom Jones turns it into a smoldering soul number, complete with weeping horns ripped straight from an Otis Redding ballad. Jones makes “The Hitter” feel less like a lament and more like a matter of life and death. By the time it’s done, you’ll wonder if, like the song’s protagonist, you can get up at all. But don’t worry. We know you can.