I got a text a few weeks back from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Stormin. Storm and I roomed together with GP and some other dudes back in college but those records are sealed until twenty-five years after my death. Storm’s text was in reference to Tom Petty’s side project, Mudcrutch and their upcoming concert in Denver. “My wildest dreams have come true and Mudcrutch is finally coming to Denver. I’ve purchased 2 VIP tickets…” Now this was interesting… The next thing I knew I was booking a trip to Denver to see Mudcrutch.
Storm and I saw Petty together on the “Full Moon Fever” Tour. We weren’t going to go to the concert, but a few of our friends were attending so we went down to the old Kemper Arena and stopped in Sutera’s Tavern for a few quick brews. We made the cursory walk over to check on scalped tickets and a guy approached and asked if we thought twenty dollars was a fair price for the two tickets he had… they were 10th row, center on the floor. Other than seeing Van Halen on the “Fair Warning” tour it was one of the best concerts of my illustrious concert career. Best 2o bucks I ever spent.
To describe Mudcrutch as a “side-project” is probably a misnomer on my part. Mudcrutch was Petty’s first band. They had all moved together from Florida to LA and actually recorded a few singles. Those songs never really broke and I didn’t even hear them until Petty released his monumental box set “Playback” in the 90’s. Mudcrutch’s line up changed a bit but it consisted of Randy Marsh on drums, Tom Leadon (whose brother Bernie was a founding member of the Eagles) on guitar/vocals, Petty on bass guitar/vocals and Mike Campbell on lead guitar. Later after Leadon left Benmont Tench joined on keyboards. After Mudcrutch broke up, Petty moved to rhythm guitar, Stan Lynch took over drums and Ron Blair took over bass, they dubbed themselves Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and the rest, as they say, was history.
In the excellent 2007 documentary “Running Down a Dream” chronicling the Heartbreaker’s history, they touched on Mudcrutch. I don’t know if it was revisiting his history, or this was something that Petty had been considering for a long time, but merely one year later in 2008, Petty regrouped the Mudcrutch lineup and put out the great record “Mudcrutch.” It was written and recorded in like, 10 days. To support the album Mudcrutch did a two week, 10-concert residency in some LA theater. I think they might have done a few nights in San Francisco, but my mind gets foggier with time. I really loved the “Mudcrutch” record but I figured that was going to be the end of the story for these guys. It was like going to see an ex-girlfriend, Petty was curious, checked it out and realized he was better off where he was… so to speak… not that I’ve ever done that, I’m just saying’… it happens.
Now, eight years later, Mudcrutch is set to return. The second album is creatively titled “2.” Naturally I’v done the pre-buy and they’ve released three very strong tunes so far. The first track “Trailer” was actually originally released on the box set “Playback.” I think it was recorded around the “Southern Accents” timeframe. The “Southern Accents” album was supposedly Petty revisiting his roots, and telling the he and the Heartbreaker’s story. It got a little weird when he brought in Dave Edwards from the Eurythmics to produce it but such is life. “Trailer” got left in the can, as they say. Like returning to Mudcrutch “Trailer” is a wistful look back at a relationship long gone. It’s a great song, but like I mentioned in the Peter Wolf review a few weeks ago, when a band redoes a song already released, it feels a little like cheating to me. Unless of course the song is significantly different like Sting’s solo version of “Shadows In the Rain” which is a radical reinvention of that song vs the Police version. So I liked “Trailer” but I’d already heard a very similar version on “Playback.”
The second song, “Beautiful World” is a great, upbeat and hopeful tune. It’s got a nice little riff and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to hear live. It was written by Randy Marsh, the drummer and I don’t know if it’s him or Tom Leadon who sings it but it’s not Petty singing. Petty wanted a more “group” feel for this album so each member was asked to write one song. Marsh’s “Beautiful World” is a superb tune so we can only hope the other contributions from band members are as strong. I do sort of wish Petty had sung this one though. Still, it’s a great rock song.
Finally, the third song was released last week, “Hungry No More,” and it is awesome. It is certainly the pick of the litter so far. It clocks in at over six minutes and it allows Mudcrutch to stretch out quite a bit. It’s a mid tempo tune but has some blistering lead guitar work from Mike Campbell. Whatever he’s doing to his guitar is probably illegal in a number of states, but it sounds fantastic. The song has an impassioned vocal from Petty. It’s a down on your luck story but it’s sung with a beautiful, defiant vocal. “You can’t live on nothin’ at all, and I ain’t gonna be hungry no more…” Wow. With the economy like it is, it’s hard not to feel that this song was ripped from the headlines… but as usual, I digress.
I have to say, so far, so good on “2.” Petty has been on a hot streak since his solo album “Highway Companion.” Everything the guy touches lately is gold. There’s an exploration in his music – blues, country, jam-band – that is adventurous and always interesting. I am really looking forward to hearing the rest of this album… and actually seeing these guys destroy it live in Denver with my buddy Storm!
Until then, I’ll keep you posted as I hear more Mudcrutch. Check it out!