There was a time when the airwaves were mellowed and burnished by the strains of a hybrid music known as folk-rock. Within this genre were groups and solo artists. Amongst these was a unique baritone voice that graced many an early 70s hit. Jim Croce was really a story teller who could create whole vistas and generate characters who could fill pages in description within simple scenarios. Cut off in his prime by a plane crash, the boy from PA was silenced but not forgotten. No longer would tales of larger than life people like Leroy Brown, Rapid Roy and Jim or love songs like Time In A Bottle fill radios with warmth, yearning and excitement.
The reality is, though, that this brilliance did not appear de novo, without predecession. Jim was a raconteur folk artist since his undergrad days at Villanova. He covered the genre now known as Americana and even after "making it", he would still explore the American musical inheritance. Perched at his kitchen table with guitar and Wollensak reel-to-reel, Jim would record everything from blues to Appalachian ballads to sea shantys and Vaudeville. His guitar playing was fluid and articulate and his baritone was rich and expressive. Given the times and equipment, these recordings are round, tonal and quite nice sounding.
I have always loved Croce's music and given my bias towards Blues, I feel that some of the best stuff on this disk are his blues covers. Living With the Blues really exhibits guitar chops and vocal soul as does the bluesy country number, Cigarettes, Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women. He exuded blue.
Certain other cuts lack the soul and are too Everly Brothers white bread. The Vaudeville attitude of Sophie Tucker, filled with wit and entendre was mellowed by Jim but, Nobody Loves A Fat Girl is a hoot. He visited the Country/Western canon via Jimmy Rodgers' In the Jailhouse Now but really captures the desperation of the imprisoned in an eerie and subdued The Wall. Croce read such old timey numbers as Sadie Green (The Vamp of New Orleans) and I Got Mine pretty straight but they still bounce and bump softly. Given that Johnny Cash died recently, it was weird hearing Jim do Six Days On the Road with a voice that sounded just like Johnny's.
The amazing thing is that 2 stilled giants are present to hear whenever you want, on small plastic disks. This magic is available at the push of a button, bringing it alive once more. As his son AJ tells us as he described his late father's musical scrapbook, "enjoy the music." The magic is still here.
Page design by David N. Pyles