LP Review: Tom Petty, ‘An American Treasure’ – A Different Path Through a Brilliant Career

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“And may my love travel with you, everywhere” – Tom Petty, “Have Love, Will Travel”

As chance would have it, the day my copy of Tom Petty’s new box set, An American Treasure arrived at the house, September 28th (I’d pre-ordered it), I had to jump in the car to head out to points west to take my wife and daughter to see my KC Chiefs play the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football. It was tough duty to hold that box set in my hands and leave it behind… Family comes first. After a great, long weekend in Denver, the Rock Chick slid behind the wheel as we headed back home… I realized it was October 2nd, the one year anniversary of Tom’s sad passing… I commemorated the date in a way I’d hope would make Tom smile, out on the open road, cruising down the highway at top speed, blasting the Tom Petty playlist the Rock Chick put together a year ago to honor the man. That quickly led me to my playlist of my favorite deep tracks, Playlist: The B&V Best Tom Petty Album/Deep Tracks, now posted on Spotify.

While my driving, binge-listening to Petty was a nice memorial, I found a much more fitting tribute when I returned home to An American Treasure. This is a superb box set. It was lovingly curated by Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench and Petty’s wife Dana and daughter Adria. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the contributions of Ryan Ulyate, whose remastering of these tracks is nothing short of genius. Petty and the Heartbreakers released their first box set, Playback in 1995 and one might wonder, “another box?” Playback was a six disc box. The first three discs were a wonderful career retrospective of greatest hits and “best of” kind of tracks. The last three discs were b-sides and unreleased tracks. It’s an exceptional listen.

An American Treasure is simply put, a different journey through this artist’s or this band’s career. It reminds me somewhat of Bruce Springsteen’s epic box set Tracks, that Bruce described as a different road than what his journey had taken him on. If you’re more of a greatest hits type fan, this box will take you into some deeper cuts from Petty and flesh out the man’s artistry. Campbell, Tench and company actively tried to stay away from the greatest hits or anything that was previously released on Playback here. You won’t find “Free Fallin'” on this box. The familiar tracks are either live or released in an alternative version, which (while cliche) is a window into Petty and the Heartbreakers’ creative process. The goal on An American Treasure was to bring you inside the studio with the Heartbreakers to get a glimpse of their genius. I was surprised what a cohesive listen this was from start to finish. To me, what this box highlights, is Petty’s amazing and oft overlooked ability as a lyricist. He remained through out his career an “Everyman” who could tell stories and paint pictures with just a modicum of words and whole lot of emotion. What he’s able to convey with such an economy of words is amazing and perhaps something I should learn from. When you do listen to this set all the way through (at four hours it’s a commitment) you start to realize the cinematic scope of Petty’s writing. His songs, for me, evoke images in my head. I can see what’s happening in the song.

If you will indulge me in a metaphoric detour, I would compare An American Treasure to my old days, driving up to college. Between my hometown and my college, there is a 4-lane, interstate highway, part of which is a toll road. It was the fastest way to get there… hit the on ramp, pay the toll, speed to college. But there were many of us, mostly to avoid the 75-cent toll, who would skip the interstate and take back roads… It was slower on the two-lane black top roads but the ride was much more interesting. You had to slow down at every little village and hamlet on the way, but you saw a lot more of the country side. There was even a bar or two one might stop at, if you were so inclined. If I was at one of those places now, I’d be highly motivated to put this box set on the stereo… “a round for everyone, I’m here for a little while” to quote Petty himself… An American Treasure is that slower journey down that road less traveled.

There really is something on this box for everyone, no matter what kind of fan of Petty’s you are. If you’re only into the greatest hits, there are deep/album cuts here that will deepen your understanding of Petty’s work. From “Rockin’ Around (With You)” from the first album to “Crawling Back To You” from Wildflowers, there are a bunch of tracks that you won’t find on a Greatest Hits compilation but are of such a high quality one must wonder, “why wasn’t this a single?”

Stepping in a little deeper, there are a lot of unreleased live versions of songs here. While Petty released a big multi-disc live set, Live Anthology the live versions of tracks you find here are revelatory. You get to hear the band develop as a live act. Especially of interest to me was a live version of “Breakdown” that was recorded live for a special radio broadcast at Capitol Studios, in front of a very small audience. That version of “Breakdown” was the only version of that song played on my local radio station, KY/102. This is the first official release of the song and it’s about time! When I bought their first eponymously titled album, I was disappointed when I realized the version of “Breakdown” was a studio version. It’s nice to finally hear this released in a clean copy. There are great live versions of tracks, including ones by Mudcrutch that are worth exploring. The Heartbreakers, Campbell on guitar, Tench on keyboards and either Ron Blair or Howie Epstein on bass, Stan Lynch or Steve Ferrone on drums, and utility infielder Scott Thurston on, well, almost everything, were one of the tightest bands around.

For those of you who own all the albums, many of the familiar tracks are here in “alternate” versions. “Here Comes My Girl” is the same track as originally released, but rather than fade out you get to hear the band jam a bit at the end. “Fooled Again” from the second album was sped up when it was originally released, and I like this slightly slower version. There’s something new to discover in these different versions. Special kudos to Ulyate for his work on bringing out features and sounds on these alternate versions that you might have missed on the first go around. Many of the alternate versions were earlier versions or have different arrangements or lyrics. There are enough differences in the alternate versions that kept me highly interested. The redone version of “Rebels” with a different drum track (without that 80s echo) is perhaps definitive here.

Finally, for me, the intense collector, there are a host of previously unreleased tracks. It’s an American treasure trove. I’d heard a few of these before, in different versions, “Surrender” (here a first take) and “Keeping Me Alive” (a Long After Dark leftover). There’s a great, funky little, Leon Russell-like track from Mudcrutch, “Lost In Your Eyes,” that makes me wonder, why’d they hide this amazing song so long. Of course, the first single, “Keep A Little Soul,” also an out take from Long After Dark, remains one of my favorites Tom Petty: New Single From The Upcoming Box-set, “Keep A Little Soul”. “Walkin’ From the Fire” is an excellent track from the Southern Accents that should have been on the album. There are just so many great tracks – “Gainesville,” Chuck Berry-style rave up “Lonesome Dave” or the jam “Two Men Talking” – everyone needs to hear these songs.

An American Treasure, which is a term we all use to describe Tom Petty, is an aptly named, wonderful tribute to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ career. This is a must hear for all fans. Lock the door, turn off your phone and spend the evening with an old friend, Tom Petty, and may his “love travel with you, always.”

Cheers!

 

Review: Mudcrutch, Denver, Co; Ogden Theater 25May16

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*Mudcrutch takes a bow in front of your intrepid blogger (apologies to Tom Leadon on the right who I drunkenly cut off)

It was about a month ago I got the text…. it was from one of my dearest friends, Stormin’… it went: “My prayer has been answered. Mudcrutch May 26, Ogden Theater. Unfortunately my pre-sales code only allows for two tickets. Thoughts?” “Thoughts” indeed….the hook was baited but would I be able to take it? My first thought, as it always is when Stormin’ invites me off to an adventure was “How am I going to work this?…” The Rock Chick, strangely, is not a fan of Mudcrutch but is a fan of Tom Petty. It’s a little like saying you like Superman, but you’re not crazy about that Clark Kent guy. There were options… I could go alone but I quickly realized this was Memorial Day Weekend and that wouldn’t fly. I could buy the Rock Chick a ticket but that option was facing some stiff resistance. Or, and this is what we compromised on, I’d go alone with Stormin’ and the Rock Chick would get to go to Vail the next day… It was a dicey gamble, the Rock Chick likes to shop, but I can now say with clear hindsight, it was a good bargain all around.

In the old days, when Stormin’ and I went off into the night time, in search of rock and roll and other recreations, there was a good chance one or both of us would end up in shackles. There have been “episodes” in the past that decorum prohibits me from discussing in this rather public format. Things are quieter now that we’re both married dudes… I was on vacation all week anticipating this concert. The last time Mudcrutch toured they only played dates in LA and SF or maybe just LA… this was their first real trek across the States. I got to Denver Wednesday night to discover Stormin’ had his vegetable crisper full of beer and, of all things, “Sad Wings of Destiny” by Judas Priest on the stereo. Oh, yes, this was working out perfectly.

The only other time I was in the Ogden Theater in Denver was when I was there for the Cult’s “Electric” Tour where they performed, not surprisingly from the name, the entire “Electric” album. That was a banner evening. The Ogden seats, and I’m guessing here, maybe 1500 to 1600 people. I was assuming being able to see Petty and a few of the Heartbreakers in Mudcrutch in this small room was going to be something special. For once, I was right… It was an amazing night. Since we had the VIP package, we got in earlier than the rest of the GA crowd and ended up right at the stage, two people back from the barricade. There’s an intimacy in a small theater that I experienced first hand. When Petty came out, with his bass guitar slung low, he’d look slightly to his left, right into my eyes. As he sang, there were a few times I had to look away, it was like he was looking right into my soul. That’s how close I was. So naturally, this was not a normal show for me.

First and foremost I must call out Mike Campbell. He is one of the greatest guitarists I’ve ever seen. Whether in the Heartbreakers or Mudcrutch, he’s (as my friend Stormin’ said) “the glue.” Whether it was mandolin or guitar, the guy just shredded. To see his dexterity up close was something I will not soon forget. Benmont Tench, the other Heartbreaker in Mudcrutch, on keyboards was equally amazing. His boogie-woogie piano was all over the music. Each member sang at least 1 song and I must give a shout out to rhythm guitarist Tom Leadon (Bernie from the Eagles brother) for the amazing lead, harmony and backing vocals he contributed. He and Petty’s banter caused most of the laughter during the show. Randall Marsh on drums was a big hitter – not a lot of swing – but he was very capable and his vocal turn on “Beautiful World” was spot on. Petty played a nice bass guitar. He seemed almost nervous to be away from his natural instrument, the guitar. His hands were even shaking a bit as they came on stage. His vocals were amazing as usual. “I Forgave It All,” a haunting ballad and “Hungry No More” were vocal performances that I will never forget. Simply beautiful.

The show opened with a tune off the first Mudcrutch album, “Shady Grove” which spotlights both Leadon and Petty’s vocals. They followed up with three more tunes from the first record until they got to the first single from “2,” “Trailer.” They played almost all of “2” with the exception of “Beautiful Blue” which I’d liked to have heard and a good portion of “Mudcrutch.” The encore was a Jerry Lee Lewis cover, once again spotlighting the amazing piano of Ben Tench. Anyone expecting to hear something from the Heartbreaker’s repertoire will be disappointed… I was not.

Highlights for me include the Byrds cover from the first album, “Six Days On the Road,” which is just a great, galloping road tune. “Beautiful World,” “Dreams of Flying,” and “Crystal River” were all great performances. The latter tune being the longest jam they played all night. The interplay between band members was a lot of fun. Campbell would walk over to Leadon to trade licks, or all the guitarist would end a song standing near the piano watching Tench bang out a solo. The song “Hope” from “2” which on the record is an organ driven Animals’ style rocker, turned into a muscular guitar showcase for Campbell.

“Bootleg Flyer” was the last song in the main set and it was a scorcher. It was the perfect way to wrap up the two hour set. The band quickly returned for the encore, the aforementioned Jerry Lee Lewis’ cover, “High School Confidential.” The crowd was frenzied at that point. I could barely hear over the screams as Petty and the rest of the band took their final bow, right in front of me, as pictured above.

My legs were sore, but I had a huge smile on my face as a hobbled out of the Ogden. I once again grabbed my buddy Stormin’s shoulder and yelled, “Fuck, wow!” It was all I could muster. Storm and I staggered down to a deserted bar and had a few celebratory beers and finally managed to convince the bartender to call us a cab.

Where ever you happen to live… if Mudcrutch is in your town, call the ticket broker, this is a must see show.

Cheers!

Review Redux: Mudcrutch “2” (Full Album) A Very Strong, Tighter Return

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First and foremost, I must apologize to any of you who read my original review of the full album “2” by Mudcrutch. I wasn’t happy with my original title, which included the words, “A Band Having Fun.” I felt like that title was misleading and made the album sound more upbeat than it is. I do think, in terms of fun, Petty is  having a great time playing bass, playing with different musicians and having the entire band contribute songwriting, but that doesn’t mean all the music is happy. So, I went in and tried to edit the title. Being the Luddite that I am, I didn’t realize that changing the title would delete all the actual text under the title in the body of the post. Technical SNAFU’s seem to be my specialty. I will attempt, in this Redux Review, to recreate what I wrote earlier from my notes. Again, I am sorry for my technical stupidity.

If anything, these few extra days have only made my esteem for this record grow… leaps and bounds, in fact.

I’ve always been a huge Tom Petty fan… I can still remember buying “Damn the Torpedoes,” my first Petty album, on vinyl at the record store in the mall. That album was a certified masterpiece. I’ve always felt Petty’s career had a bit of an ebb and flow to it until “Fool Moon Fever” came out. Petty’s popularity exploded. I can still remember driving to the office when I was exiled to Arkansas and hearing “I Won’t Back Down” on the radio and thinking, “this is my new theme song…” It didn’t work, I ended up backing down, I quit. It was the best thing for me at the time. As Keith Richards once sang, it was time for me to “walk before they made me run…” but those records are also sealed.

After “Full Moon Fever” Petty seemed to have had the Midas Touch. Everything the guy did, with or without the Heartbreakers, turned to gold. That purple patch lasted him from “Full Moon Fever” through the whole Wilbury’s thing up to “Wildflowers.” Even the departure of founding drummer Stan Lynch during this time period seemed to make the Heartbreakers even stronger, which many times is not the case with a band member’s departure. Then came the superb and highly under-appreciated “Echo” album. For reasons unclear, the album didn’t reach the heights of Petty’s then recent successes. I will say, “Echo” had a bit of a melancholy fog hanging over it likely caused by Petty’s recent divorce. Petty did not react well to the lukewarm reception of “Echo” and recorded what seemed like a very angry follow-up, “The Last DJ.”

But after “The Last DJ,” the strangest thing happened. It’s as if Petty decided, “fuck it,” and started making music that made him happy and music that the Heartbreakers clearly enjoyed playing. He has a trio of great, late-career. kick-ass albums – “Highway Companion,” “Mojo,” and “Hypnotic Eye.” These are the types of albums that inspired me to start writing BourbonAndVinyl in the first place. All three are on the highly recommended list.

During this late period surge, in 2007, Petty agreed to doing a documentary on his and the Heartbreaker’s history, “Running Down a Dream,” and I must say it’s a must see for Petty fans. In the documentary, they dedicate a section to Mudcrutch, Petty’s first band out of Florida. Randy Marsh (drums) and Tom Leadon (guitar/vocal) were in the band with Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers and Petty on bass guitar. Later, after Leadon left, Benmont Tench (keyboards) joined. The band recorded a few singles that were completely ignored before disbanding. Petty switched to guitar, kept Campbell and Tench, formed the Heartbreakers and the rest, as they say, is history. But something in the documentary must have inspired the whole “what might have been” thought process…usually that leads to calling an ex-girlfriend, but in this case, Petty pulled together Mudcrutch in 2008 and recorded the album “Mudcrutch.” It was a loose-limbed, “jammy” affair, but I really liked that record.

I had always assumed “Mudcrutch” was a one-off affair, but then late last year the rumors began that Petty was reassembling Mudcrutch to record another record. This past weekend saw the release of “2,” the band’s second record. Clearly with album names “Mudcrutch” and “2” it’s clear that Petty and the lads don’t put a lot of time or thought into their album titles. Having had some recent “title problems” of my own, I get it. Damn technology. The record starts off with an old outtake from Petty’s “Playback” box-set, “Trailer.” “Trailer” is one of those wistful, looking back tunes about a relationship that failed. At first, I was surprised he dug out that old tune for this album, but the sentiments in the tune sort of sum up the whole Mudcrutch enterprise. It’s a great version of the song.

Petty required everybody in the band to write a song. My favorite band contribution is “Beautiful World” by Randy Marsh. I think he sings it. I do wish, as I stated when the single came out, that Petty had sung it, but it’s still a kick ass rock song. It and “Dream of Flying” (which Petty sings) are the closest you’ll get to a Heartbreaker-y sound here. “Dream of Flying” is superb. I do think Petty is enjoying this different group of collaborators but that doesn’t mean the songs are all as upbeat as “Beautiful World”.

The centerpiece of the record for me remains “Hungry No More.” It’s a defiant song about resilience that makes Scarlett O’Hara’s vow to never be hungry again seem tame in comparison. Mike Campbell’s guitar is all over “Hungry No More” and his performance here is why he’s one of the greatest to ever strap on a guitar. “I Forgive It All” is a beautiful, spare ballad in the manner of “Highway Companion”s song “Square One.” It and “Beautiful Blue” are the best love songs here. “Beautiful Blue” simply shimmers. “Victim Of Circumstance”is Campbell’s writing effort here and it’s another exceptional tune.

The only tunes that left me cold are Leadon’s “The Other Side of the Mountain” mostly because there’s a banjo (not to sound like the Rock Chick, but I am “banjo-interolerant) and Ben Tench’s “Welcome to Hell.” I love Tench’s boogie woogie piano on the song, but the lyrics are like a joke that just misfires. But these are minor complaints, neither song is terrible. Mudcrutch’s first album, as I mentioned, was such a loose jam, it’s nice to hear these guys so focused. The songs are finely crafted, much tighter than the first record and well played.

“2” is a highly recommended purchase from BourbonAndVinyl. Play it loud and often… and the best part of this album is that for the first time Mudcrutch is playing concerts outside the state of California… which means I’ll be heading to Denver for Memorial Day Weekend with one of my best friends Stormin’ and Mudcrutch. If you get a chance to see these guys, run to the concert, don’t walk. I’ll post an update after I’ve seen the show!!

Again, my apologies for accidentally deleting the original review of this superb record and as always, Cheers!

 

Review: Mudcrutch “2” – Three Songs Released So Far

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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!

Cheers!