Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Tom Petty fans thought they would never see one Mudcrutch album, let alone two.
To catch everyone up on Heartbreakers’ trivia, the backstory goes that in 1974, a scraggly Florida outfit with the unwieldy name of Mudcrutch —bassist/singer/songwriter Petty along with keyboardist Benmont Tench, Tom Leadon and Mike Campbell on guitars and drummer Randall Marsh — headed to L.A. to find fame and fortune. They recorded a few tunes and soon disbanded. But since Petty was signed to the Shelter label, he kept Tench and Campbell added new members and the Heartbreakers was born.
In 2008, Petty unexpectedly revived the name, brought back Leadon and Marsh from obscurity and released what became Mudcrutch’s belated debut. That disc’s loose-limbed yet winning mix of covers and originals was a little looser and more rootsy than Petty’s typical fare and even though he was clearly the frontman, Tench and Leaden took a few lead vocals.
Eight years and two Heartbreakers albums later, Petty gives the venture another go-round, now booking a tour to support it. This one ups the energy a few notches, especially on the pounding garage pulsing “Hope” which, with its cheesy Farfisa organ sounds like a pretty good Standells B-side. Tench takes another vocal turn on the dryly humorous boogie-woogie “Welcome to Hell” and guitarist Campbell gets a rare chance to sing on his lone writing contribution, the chugging “Victim of Circumstance,” finding ground somewhere between Petty and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Even drummer Marsh takes a frontman status on his perfectly acceptable “Beautiful World,” proving himself both a respectable singer and capable of churning out at least one solid pop-rocker.
Not surprisingly Petty contributes the bulk of the material — this disc is all originals — with seven new tunes (out of 11), all of them up to the high standards he has set for himself throughout his stellar 40-and-counting year career. Even Petty experts would have trouble telling the first three tracks aren’t new TP & the HB tunes since they ride that well established sweet spot between chiming Byrds-influenced rocking and impossible to resist choruses. That’s particularly true of “Dreams of Flying,” a mid-tempo nugget every bit as good as his best work.
The closing six minute “Hungry No More” is this album’s epic answer to the debut’s sprawling 9 minute “Crystal River,” giving Campbell and Leadon room to weave their guitars around a strummy, emotionally laced Petty ballad that incorporates a bit of a psychedelic vibe, not something you’d likely hear in a set from his full time ensemble.
As usual, Petty makes it seem easy. And with help from his fellow Mudcrutchers, the unassumingly titled 2 is proof that even Tom Petty’s modest side projects are better and more compelling than many acts at their best.
This article has been amended from its original version.