Over the past three decades, A.J. Croce has established his rep as a piano man and serious vocal stylist who pulls from a host of American traditions and anti-heroes — it’s part New Orleans, part juke joint, part soul. While his last album, JUST LIKE MEDICINE, paired him with soul legend Dan Penn and an all-star cast of players, his new album was born of memories — of favorite artists and shows, but mostly, of late-night gatherings with groups of friends, many of them fellow musicians, with Croce at the piano taking requests. Croce revisits these musical evenings with BY REQUEST, 12 personally curated covers that traverse decades and genres, propelled by his spirited, loose-and-easy piano mastery and emotive vocals. It’s a tribute to Croce the music fan as well as Croce the musician that both the variety — from pop to RnR to soul — and execution is inspired, aided by a full band and horns. BY REQUEST is the first album Croce has released since losing his wife of 24 years, Marlo Croce, after a sudden heart ailment.
From sharing an obscurity by Motown artist Shorty Long, “Ain’t No Justice,” to his funky, dead-on version of Billy Preston’s “Nothing from Nothing,” Croce keeps the virtual party hopping. While he delivers faithful recreations of such nuggets as The Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Ooh Child” and Allen Toussaint’s “Brickyard Blues,” he puts his own spin on piano-driven arrangements of songs by Neil Young, The Beach Boys, Sam Cooke, The Faces and more. Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” is re-interpreted as a gospel song, and The Beach Boys’ “Sail On Sailor” becomes a trippy, rollicking ride. Although he lost his famous father, music legend Jim Croce, when he was just two years old, he pays tribute by covering Randy Newman’s “Have You Seen My Baby” since the first show he attended was a bill featuring his dad and Newman. “BY REQUEST is my way of inviting you over for a private gathering at my place,” Croce says of the collection. “We listen to great music, laugh, make great food and after a few drinks and maybe a few more we end up in my music room and I start taking requests of every genre and era.”