Over the past three decades, A.J. Croce has established his reputation as a piano player and serious vocal stylist who pulls from a host of musical traditions and anti-heroes — part New Orleans, part juke joint, part soul. Today, he’s premiering his cover of the Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee classic “Better Day,” a song that particularly resonates in these turbulent times. The track is premiering at American Blues Scene and features guitar legend (and Croce’s East Nashville neighbor) Robben Ford guesting on guitar.
“Since I was very young, I remember hearing the music of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee,” Croce says. “As a kid I’d listen to my dads record collection, which was amazingly diverse. Sonny and Brownie, like Ray Charles or Otis Redding were comforting. In my 30s when I started to play guitar, the first song I learned was ‘Better Day.’ I’ve played it ever since.”
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 on 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 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. It’s also the first album by Croce to feature his full touring band: Gary Mallaber on drums (Van Morrison, Steve Miller band), GRAMMY-winning bassist David Barard (Allen Toussaint, Dr. John), and up-and-coming guitarist Garrett Stoner.
“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. The music is always fun and completely diverse. We’ll play and sing all kinds of music. Some of my friends are professional musicians, some do it for fun and many friends are just serious music fans. So you’ll fit right in.
“There’s no way that I could record the thousands of songs I’ve performed at home over the years, nevertheless every song on this album has been requested by close friends who have hung out at my place many times for many years.
“Welcome to my home, by request, you’re hereby invited to join the party. “