By my estimation, there are two kinds of “covers” albums – copycat ones and reinvention ones. With the former, the artist does nothing more than record his or her version of another artist’s songs without much originality or vitality and with the latter, the artist reinterprets those same songs in a way that makes them sound fresh and anew.
It doesn’t take long to decipher when listening to By Request, the new covers album by singer-songwriter A.J. Croce, that his new record fits gloriously in the latter category.
Born out of late-night music sessions with his friends, some of which are musicians also, and their requests for what they want to hear him play, By Request is an eclectic mix of songs performed By Croce and his touring band that serve to demonstrate his consummate skills as a musician and masterly ability to take a song and make it his own.
Over the course of the twelve songs on this collection, Croce adroitly displays his awe-inspiring proficiency to be able to combine rhythm and blues, jazz, soul, blues, juke joint, and New Orleans music and deftly apply it to songs written and performed by such diverse artists as Billy Preston, Neil Young, Allen Toussaint, The Beach Boys and more.
While I love every song on this album and what Croce is able to achieve with his recalibrations, three personal favorites are his moving and gospel music version of Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” his amped-up, rollicking version of Randy Newman’s “Have You Seen My Baby? “ and his funk soaked rendering of Shorty Long’s “Ain’t No Justice.”
Anyone who knows anything about A.J. Croce’s life story will tell you that he is a living, breathing testament to the strength and resiliency of the human soul. What his new record By Request shows beyond the shadow of a doubt is that he is an American master of the song as well.
By Request (Compass Records) by A. J. Croce was produced by Croce himself and is now available here .
Credits: A.J. CROCE: piano, vocals, organ, harmonium, acoustic guitar on “Better Day,” electric guitar on “Can’t Nobody Love You” DAVID BARARD: electric bass, upright bass GARY MALLABER: drums, percussion GARRETT STONER: guitar BILLY HARVEY: 2nd guitar on “Stay With Me” ROBBEN FORD: electric guitar on “Better Day” BACKGROUND VOCALS: ODESSA SETTLES, CALVIN SETTLES & SHIRLEY SETTLES HORN SECTION: JIM HOKE: baritone, tenor saxophones, bass harmonica, steel guitar JOSH SCALF: trombone SCOTTY HUFF: trumpet, flugelhorn