Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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CD reviews: Croce does credit to his musical heritage

A.J. Croce's transformation from a bluesy, piano-based artist who drew comparisons to Dr. John into a pop stylist whose sound draws from the most mainstream popular music strands is complete. His fifth release, and first in four years, is buffed to a sparkly sheen, making comparisons to Billy Joel, Elton John, and, especially, Paul McCartney inevitable. Croce layers the 14 songs with complex arrangements that are sweet without ever becoming cloying.

The first track, "Don't Let Me Down," is reminiscent of Marshall Crenshaw with its buoyant beat and simple melody. The McCartney influences show up on "Baby Tonight" and continue throughout the disc.

Like Five For Fighting's last release, Croce demonstrates an admiration for classic pop, updating the sounds of the '60s and '70s with modern technology and multi-tracked arrangements. The gentle "Call Me Dear" has a lovely bouncy rhythm that sounds like it should be pouring out of an AM radio 30 years ago.

Croce has the vocal range to pull off such an ambitious series of songs that build on string arrangements, jazzy piano, and straightforward pop. As the son of the late '70s folky Jim Croce, A.J. has the pedigree of an artist, but "Adrian James Croce" also displays plenty of hard work and his own ingenuity.


This high-energy music is a mish-mash of world sounds, tossing off urban Afro, Latin, and Middle Eastern styles. The combination, with an occasional dash of hip-hop and rap, is fresh and exciting. On its first album in three years, Ozomatli delves deeper than ever into North African and Arab music, and doesn't shy away from politics, anti-war messages, and matters of social justice.


The Corrs continue their trademark mix of punchy rhythms overlaid with appealing melodies and those lush harmonies that helped propel earlier songs like the massive "Breathless" to chart dominance. Most of the songs breeze along perkily, but one of the album's most impressive tracks is a ballad with rather downbeat lyrics - "Long Night." Yet the song has a poignancy that's refreshing in the context of the rest of the CD, which, despite its evident charms and rather brief 45 minutes, falters by the aptly named "Humdrum" as the songs begin to lose individual character.


"Spider-Man 2" falls short of capturing the magic of 2002's "Spider-Man" with groups such as Dashboard Confessional, Train, and Jet taking the place of Chad Kroeger, Sum 41, and Macy Gray. And while both albums feature composer Danny Elfman's work, his role is downplayed on this album. "Spider-Man 2" is a better-than-average soundtrack, but leaves listeners yearning for more if there's a "Spider-Man 3."


The jazz world once again hears from the United Kingdom's top saxophonist with "Devotion," a disc that melds Eastern and African influences and endless energy on all manner of saxophones and wind instruments. Pine, as producer, knows how not to overdo a good thing, and to offset the instrumentals, he has added the talents of vocalists Carleen Anderson, David McAlmost, and Jacqui Dankworth. "Devotion," which incorporates soft jazz, staight-ahead soul, electric, acoustic, eastern, and western, may be the one recording that starts to break down the wall between European and American jazz.


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