AJ Croce – Croce Plays Croce – Levitt Pavilion, Dayton – 9/6/18

Jim Croce’s son celebrates the legacy of his dad while forging his own musical path

As I was setting up my chair for the show, I heard a guy behind me say:

“I hear A.J. is going to play some of his dad’s songs mixed in with some of his own – I sure hope he plays more of his dad’s songs.”

Then, that very same guy, at the end of the concert said:

“wow, I need to go find out more about A.J.’s music, that guy was awesome!”

In a way, those two bits of dialogue sum up Croce’s show – people came to hear songs of Jim Croce, yet people left having a much greater appreciation for his son.

After warming up to an old boogie woogie number, Croce jumped right into one of his father’s biggest hits, “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” with A.J. on a rolling piano, and a raspy voice that’s better suited for blues numbers.  That was followed by “Easy Money,” an A.J. Croce original, yet it sounded like a classic Leiber and Stoller track that could’ve been a lost Coasters’ track.

His band was tremendous, featuring legendary drummer Gary Malaber (who played on Van Morrison’s Moondance album, among a bevy of other credits) and David Barrard (who’s worked with Etta James, Dr. John, and lots more), as well as young guitarist,  Garrett Stoner, who provided those tasty licks that were so crucial to Jim Croce’s music, as well as searing lead when A.J. played his own originals.

Croce switched to acoustic guitar for his dad’s “Operator,” which was closer to the original arrangement.  Then came another Jim tune, “Box #10,” where A.J. sounded great showing off his baritone register.

The point of the show was to tell stories between songs, and at one point, A.J. noted that all of his dad’s familiar music was recorded in a mere 18 months; such a brief moment, if you think about it.  Then, he returned to piano for a rollicking take on Sam Cooke’s “Nothing Can Change This Love,” (another favorite artist of his dad’s).

Many people were surprised to hear that he wrote several songs with Leon Russell before he passed away: “Rollin’ On” was a good time, call and response number, while “The Heart That Makes Me Whole,” had a commercial appeal, and should’ve been a hit single, if there was any justice in the world.  A.J. played one more original, “Cures Just Like Medicine,” which was slowed down and given a soulful treatment that was a marked departure from the album version.  It sounded a lot more like Ray Charles than anything his dad would’ve done.

He returned to his father’s material with the rockin’ “Workin’ at the Car Wash Blues,” which was also given a slower, blues treatment.  He picked up the guitar again for the gentle “These Dreams,” which was spine-tingling good (Stoner really shined here).  He told a story about his father going to “novelty races” (monster trucks, demolition derby), and that’s where he got the inspiration for “Rapid Roy (the Stock Car Boy).”

A song that got a good chuckle from the crowd was “He’s got a way with women/and he got away with mine,”  an old Hank Thompson song that A.J. covered on his 1993 album.

Another highlight was his reworking of a Skip James’ song “Judgement Day,” which he turned into a Latin, feel-good tune (trust me, it sounds unbelievable, but he made it work).

He did a rousing version of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” followed by his brand new single, a cover of Jim’s “I Got a Name,” which is featured in a recent Goodyear commercial.  With the crowd on their feet, the encore began with a snippet of his dad singing the original, stripped-down demo of “Time in a Bottle,” before the band segued into doing it live.

Many sons and daughters of famous people spend their whole lives trying to find their own voices.  A.J. Croce has definitely found his – he’s a tremendous songwriter and one hell of a great boogie woogie piano player. —Tony Peters