Jesse Jarnow

from the archives: jim croce’s americana: home recordings

from San Diego Fahrenheit, circa winter 2003:

Americana: Home Recordings – Jim Croce (Shout! Factory)

A roommate of mine once told me of an opulent summer week he spent sailing around a vast lake on a private yacht. Every day, he said, they would drink white wine on the deck, dive off the sides, and float in tubes on the cool water. At night, they would go ashore via a tricked-out speedboat for parties on sprawling waterfront estates, returning to the ship to stare dizzily at the milky stars and enjoy the warmth of their drunkenness. The soundtrack for their unassuming debauchery – and the only thing preventing it from entering F. Scott Fitzgerald’s world of idle rich – was a collection of lite-folkie Jim Croce’s Greatest Hits. “It was,” my friend frequently insisted, “perfect,” as if that circumstance alone is what made his vacation transcend to the sublime.

The belly-filling warmth my roommate felt is present in spades on Americana: Home Recordings, a collection of kitchen table folk and country covers recorded before Croce’s career took off. They are songs of hard-luck hoboes and fallen working class heroes — the same stuff of Willie Nelson’s compatible (and heartbreaking) Crazy Sessions. But, where Nelson’s voice is pure ache, there is a lingering optimism in Croce’s, even in jailhouse laments like “The Wall.” That difference is what makes Nelson’s music appropriate for lonely barroom nights and Croce’s appropriate for giddy boating excursions.

In a way, it is the purest realization of depressing folk music as entertainment. Croce is an easy-going pop singer born in an age of acoustic troubadours, his vocals retaining a deftly mechanical sense of momentum while remaining impossibly laid back. It’s the kind of voice that makes one feel like a man of action despite lazing idly on a yacht, projecting movement upon silent canvases of stillness, vapidness turning to golden magnificence.

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