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Thursday, June 22, 2017 12:03 am

A visit with A.J. Croce

A.J. Croce plays the Studio Theatre at UIS Sangamon Auditorium on Saturday, June 24, at 8 p.m.


Generally, I try to cover lots of stuff going on each week, but every once in awhile, something begs for my entire space. This column is fully dedicated to singer, songwriter, pianist and musician A.J. Croce, who is performing this Saturday in the Studio Theatre at Sangamon Auditorium.

To start off with full disclosure; yes, A.J. is the son of the late and legendary singer, songwriter and musician Jim Croce, who died in 1973 in a plane crash when A.J. was almost two years old. Occasionally he plays one of his dad’s hits during a concert. He also books a complete program called “Two Generations” that includes songs from each Croce and influences that bonded the two. But this Saturday, expect songs composed by A.J. Croce.

A.J.’s professional recording career started in 1993 with a compelling debut album that landed him a spot on “The Tonight Show” and opening gigs for B.B. King and Ray Charles. He continued through the years with record releases that placed him directly on the major music business charts and deftly lodged into the hearts of fans around the world. Along the way, he worked with some of the best producers in the business including Cowboy Jack Clement, T Bone Burnett, Jim Keltner and Allen Toussaint, and he’s toured and performed alongside luminaries such as Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews, Rod Stewart, Dr. John and the Neville Brothers.

This August, A.J. releases a collection of new songs, Just Like Medicine, produced by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songwriter Dan Penn and joined by renowned musicians such as Vince Gill, David Hood and Steve Cropper. He’ll do some of those cuts on Saturday, plus tunes from his current touring show promoting both his ambitious Twelve Tales (2014) album, recorded in various legendary studios with legendary producers, and a rerelease of his 1995 classic, That’s Me in the Bar. Saturday’s set comes down to basically whatever song moves him at the moment.

“The flow of the concert is always surprising – putting everything into it keeps the adrenaline going. People take that energy away from the show with them,” he explained. “Sometimes we play songs that the audience yells out. I’m looking forward to digging into the new ones, too.”

A.J. was blinded when very young and only has partial vision today. He took solace in learning to play piano by listening to masters Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. His vibrant piano playing is a vital part of every show, driving the songs and leading the way, either solo or with bandmates. On Saturday, he’s joined by his longtime guitarist Michael Bizar, a Chicago son, along with Tony Morra, an ace studio session drummer, and David Barard, a New Orleans native and former bassist with Dr. John.

Croce moved to Nashville, Tennessee a couple of years ago, settling in with the community of working musicians who call East Nashville home. His upcoming album became a direct result of this move, as the recording was done in the basement studio of Dan Penn’s Nashville-area home.

“We recorded in mostly one-takes and mixed it in mono,” he said. “I figured since most music is listened to on small devices similar to transistor radios, why not go back to what sounds good that way – mono recordings.”

With a European tour planned for August and U.S. dates scattered before and after the new record hits, the future looks bright and shining for A.J. Croce.

‘I’ve been doing this all my life,” he says.” And I’ll keep doing it as long as I can.”

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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