Artist: A.J. Croce
Album: Just Like Medicine
Label: Compass Records
Release Date: 08.11.2017
Jim Croce wrote “Time In a Bottle” for his unborn son, Adrian James, in 1971. Today, A.J. Croce has already outlived his father by 15 years and, preferring piano over guitar, has established his own musical persona. While he’s built on the Croce legacy with quirky songwriting and gritty vocals, A.J. is more Tom Waits in substance as well as sound. His latest CD, Just Like Medicine, is his ninth release, and by many measures, his most ambitious.
Adding to the gravitas are the musicians Croce has enlisted. With Steve Cropper and Vince Gill sitting in, Muscle Shoals legend David Hood on bass and Dan Penn (of the Box Tops songwriting and producing fame) at the controls, Croce has crafted a diverse collection of honky-tonk blues, horn-infused funk and piano-bar ballads. Starting out on the darker side with “Gotta Get Outta My Head,” Croce lets listeners know all is not well: “Gotta get outta my head, ‘cause I can’t stand the company.” Things pick up considerably from there, with R&B piano and horns on “The Heart That Makes Me Whole.”
Shifting gears yet again, A.J. sounds most like his father on “Name of the Game”—not surprising since the song was the last one written by Jim Croce, existing until now only on unreleased demos. It’s immediately identifiable, a guitar-driven tune on which Vice Gill appears, but A.J. remains clearly out front. The title track touches all the bases, a bluesy journey through pain and heartache, with love the only redemption: “Sure as she’s heaven sent, cures just like medicine.”
“Full Up” is pure Randy Newman, and there are overtones of Leon Russell, Allen Touissant and Boz Scaggs scattered throughout the remaining tracks, but Croce manages to make it all his own. The greatest tribute is A.J.’s ability to find his own voice while honoring his father’s spirit. Imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery.