Is Tom Petty like the coolest guy in rock and roll, or what? Back in the late 70s, he fought to keep his record prices down and battled his old record company for his contract. He made some of the most cutting-edge videos in the early days of MTV. He’s worked with Dave Stewart, was part of the Traveling Willburys, and toured with Dylan. And, of course, he continues to tour with the amazing Heartbreakers. And now, the guy gets his old band Mudcrutch back together and releases an album nearly 30 years after they broke up. I mean this guy is cool!
Mudcrutch is Benmont Tench, Mike Campbell (names you know from Petty’s Heartbreakers) Petty, and those old members, never-to-be-rock-stars-but-always-Petty-buds, Tom Leadon and Randall Marsh. As the story goes, some of these guys lived on Mudcrutch Farm in Gainesville, Florida where the band formed, played regularly and grew in popularity. In 1974, Petty and some of the dudes set off for LA and a recording contact, which in fact they did get, but though the Mudcrutch album was made, it was never released and the band broke up.
The rest is Petty history as he stayed and put the Heartbreakers together (retaining Tench and Campbell) and became a rock star. As Petty says, “"I just finished a record with Mudcrutch, my old band before the Heartbreakers. I am over the moon about it. I couldn't have hoped for it to be as good as it came out.” There’s the much talked about 9-minute plus freefall jam of “Crystal River, the swampy moves of the kick-off track “Shady Town,” to the full-on twang of “Orphan Of The Storm” (where things really begin to kick-in for me). There’s the light touch of piano and slide guitar on “Queen of The Go-Go Girls” (and great harmony vocals), “June Apple,” a great organ/guitar instrumental, and “Lover of the Bayou” where Petty is totally in control through a blistering guitar solo and some great Tench piano playing.
None of the 14 tunes on Mudcrutch misfire. Recorded in two weeks, the vibe is simple: the players simply got together and jammed until they had the pieces together and then rolled the tape. And as much as I hate to use the word ‘organic,’ this really is how this record (and yes, it is being released on vinyl) sounds.
I know sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between a Tom Petty solo album and a Heartbreakers album, and though these tunes sound pretty much like they’re Petty-penned (how’s that for alliteration?), even with Petty’s vocals up front, this really sounds like a band effort. Just don’t ask me how Mudcrutch manages this. Maybe it’s the perfect backing vocals (then again Petty has always had spot-on backing vocals with the Heartbreakers) or the competency of the players (how much better can a band be then the Heartbreakers and even the Willburys). Somehow, Petty has submerged his personality enough to be part of the band as a whole while still retains his voice…literally and figuratively. The bottom line is you need to pick up Mudcrutch. It’s an album of well-constructed songs from some old friends who haven’t seen (nor played) with each other in a long time. Yes, you can go home again.
~ Ralph Greco, Jr.