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And he's off!

A.J. Croce
A.J. Croce
By A.J. Croce

Private Music / Windham Hill Records: 1993

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This review first appeared in the June 29, 1993 issue of the North County Blade-Citizen (now North County Times).

San Diego's own A.J. Croce has issued a show-stopper of a national debut on Private Music this week. It's a slice of Americana; jazzy and blues-tinged, with everything from forgotten classics of American pop a half-century old and more to some incredible original material bound to join the national songbook.

The comparisons to his late father, singer Jim Croce, will be made. They are inevitable and might as well be dealt with. A.J. has his father's rough vocals and knack for writing great American songs, plus his father's photogenic looks. Stylistically, though, they are poles apart. While his dad played a stark, guitar-based folks style, A.J.'s piano-oriented music is influenced heavily by New Orleans boogie woogie, with traces of Dr. John, Harry Connick Jr. and Professor Longhair prominent. In fact, A.J.'s vocal delivery is much closer to that of Dr. John or Louis Armstrong than to his dad's.

Given the pervading New Orleans vibe on this outing, you might swear A.J. was yet another budding genius from the Crescent City if you didn't know he was from San Diego.

Despite the fact that the man is an incredible pianist and a moving, evocative singer who breathes life into his lyrics, the most impressive part of this album is the songwriting. Croce has, at the tender age of 21, penned several tunes here that will likely become American standards. "I Found Faith, particularly, is on a level that Harold Arlen, Cole Porter and Sammy Cahn once achieved. Other oustanding songs by Croce include "How'd We Get So Good at Saying Good-by" and "Which Way Steinway," both of which are likely to start showing up on other people's albums.

He's also got a nice touch at finding forgotten pearls of American music. "I Wonder" from 1944 and 1926's "If I Could Be With You" both have a timeless appeal enhanced by Croce's nuanced performance.

The fact that Croce is surrounded by stellar talent doesn't hurt, either. Blues guitarist Robben Ford and rock drumming legend Jim Keltner sit in on almost every number. Rock's T-Bone Burnett, jazz bassist Ron Carter and local jazz musicians Mitch Manker (trumpet) and Paco Shipp (saxophones) appear on several cuts.

The music, the singing, the sidemen – from top to bottom this is a first-class outing on a major label from a local artist headed for wider horizons.