Over the course of three recordings beginning with his self-titled debut in 1993, singer/songwriter A.J. Croce has truly created a niche all his own, hitting high on adult alternative and Americana charts with a piano-based style steeped in traditional American roots music with splashes of '60s- and '70s-influenced soul. Keeping a rootsy foundation but drawing upon a wider palette of pop and rock influences such as the Beatles, Beach Boys, Squeeze, and Elvis Costello, Croce shifts gears dramatically on his aptly titled Higher Octave Music debut Transit. Whereas his previous albums found him favoring roots rock and Ray Charles, he now complements a retro-minded keyboard mix (including the Hammond B-3 organ, Wurlitzer electric piano, and Vox Continental) with edgy electric guitars and a smoother, textured vocal approach. While sticking to the whimsical approach to lyric writing that has established his reputation as a great songwriter, Croce's determination to take another route led him to change his whole production style from the ground up. 1998's Fit to Serve was produced by Jim Gaines, who had worked with Santana and many Stax artists; Transit is helmed by alternative rock producer and guitarist Michael James, best known for his recordings with New Radicals, Hole, and Jane's Addiction. Thematically, Croce runs the gamut from wistful, lovelorn pieces like "Summer Can't Come Soon" and the deep longings of "The Bargain" to a pure jamming playfulness on "Five" and "It's Only Me," a colorful historical tale. Other key focus tracks include the upbeat, picture-perfect pop of "What I Wouldn't Do" (inspired by his long stretches on the road away from family and friends) and the cautiously optimistic power ballad "Maybe."
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran