By: Dennis Cook
The note that greets you when you open Mudcrutch's debut tells you everything you need to know about the spirit of this Tom Petty reunion with his old Gainesville, FL band after 35 years:
Drums, wire, old friends, etc.
Recorded live, vocals, harmony, everything
Arrangements done on the studio floor
Made in 10 days, no headphones
Los Angeles in August '07
A lot of love
Starting with a kick ass version of folk/bluegrass standard "Shady Grove" that's worthy of The Byrds in their prime, Mudcrutch is gently twangy, mildly psychedelic, meat 'n' taters rock (would you expect otherwise from Petty?) infused with the love and heartfelt abandon of young men. The simple joy of playing music they dig together permeates every track. The whole thing has an un-fussed-over vibe, and Petty hasn't been this relaxed or natural on record since the She's The One soundtrack, which was captured in much the same garage rock, back-to-basics manner.
Petty plays bass here, giving over guitar duties to his Heartbreakers foil Mike Campbell and singer-guitarist Tom Leadon. Drummer Randall Marsh and new kid to the Crutch, keyboardist Benmont Tench, round out the lineup, which hum with the crackle and energy of their youthful influences – Dylan, Buffalo Springfield, Roger McGuinn, Michael Nesmith, The Band and the '60s SF hippie rock scene. The originals have some of Petty's best lyrics in years, a real return to the unforced blue-collar wisdom of early Heartbreakers albums tinged with a touch of gray. They swing hard on a cover of "Six Days On The Road," folk antique "June Apple" and a well muscled take on McGuinn's "Lover of the Bayou." They also shine brightly on the simmering, softly trippy "Crystal River" and the Lowell George-like "Oh Maria." Tench's "This Is A Good Street" and Leadon's "Queen Of The Go-Go Girls" add some nifty '50s Sun Studios colors not seen in the Heartbreakers. "Bootleg Flyer" is a great, gritted teeth rocker and closer "House of Stone" may be the most unassuming, pure thing Petty has penned in decades, a nod back to workhorses like Tom T. Hall and Hoyt Axton.
Simply put, there's nothing to dislike about Mudcrutch, which charms and sways with an easier feel than the Heartbreakers perhaps ever have, ditching some of that band's punk influenced hardness for a more sativa character that's as winning and welcome as that first toke after a hard day in the rat race.
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