Album Reviews

Jim Croce

I Got a Name

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My enthusiasm for Jim Croce came late, in a movie theater, listening to "I Got a Name" during the opening and closing sequences of The Last American Hero, an excellent film about stock-car racing. It was one of the few instances I could recall in which a title song, and especially the voice singing it, served as an accurate introduction and coda to both the theme and the ambience of a film. Croce brought out the truth of a sentimental lyric—he had a populist voice if ever there was one. Though Croce didn't write "I Got a Name," he sang it as though he had.

I Got a Name is Croce's third and last album; it is also his best. The production by Cashman and West, who also produced You Don't Mess Around With Jim and Life And Times, is a bit richer than on the previous albums, but not in a way that interferes with Croce's persona, the tough-tender storyteller and philosophic realist, who naturally identifies himself with the young working class of the American heartland. Eight of the album's 11 cuts are Croce originals that divide between the philosophic and anecdotal.

In the wake of Croce's untimely death, there is an almost fatalistic aura about the philosophic songs, "Age" and "The Hard Way Every Time," both of which offer Croce's microcosmic assessment of his own life, one in which failures and successes balance each other equally, while the joy of living is vigorously reasserted.

Of the anecdotal songs, "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues," "Top Hat Bar and Grille" and "Five Short Minutes" are in the mode of "Bad Bad Leroy Brown'—wry, earthy and pulsing with vitality. Three acoustic ballads—"I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song" (a gem), "Lover's Cross" and "Recently"—treat aspects of love; happiness, rejection and memory, respectively. A complete change of pace for Croce is "Salon And Saloon," written by Maury Muehleisen, Croce's second guitarist, who died in the same plane crash. A slow, cabaret-styled dramatic monologue, sung with just a piano accompaniment, it shows that Croce's expressive capabilities as a singer were wider than had previously been imagined.

Jim Croce was certainly one of the best recent craftsmen of contemporary music. His work is remarkable for its simplicity and utter lack of pretension. Croce's melodies, written to accommodate a narrow vocal range, though very tight, are free of cliche. Strongly modulated and always catchy, they serve as the perfect vehicles for his unforced narrative diction, whose hallmark is a successful integration within the lyrics of tough colloquial vernacular. Lastly, Croce's blunt, nasal singing style brings to his material a degree of veracity that a more polished approach could not have accommodated.

Croce knew the virtues of modesty. If he had lived on to enjoy the escalating recognition, it would probably not have had an adverse effect, for he had long ago come to terms with that possibility, as witnessed by the lyrics of "Age":

Once I had myself a million

Now I've only got a dime

The difference don't seem quite as bad today

With a nickel or a million I was searching all the time

For something that I'd never lost or left behind.

With his kind of honesty, simplicity and humor, Jim Croce embodied a significant positive strain of our national character, a small-scaled but very real hero of American pop.


(Posted: Jan 17, 1974)