An upfront harmonica and acoustic guitar jangle pushes Randall Marsh's upbeat snare snap of the wry biographical "Trailer," the first tune of 2, the second album by Mudcrutch. With strong organ and precisely placed piano work from Benmont Tench, this opener is a hint of things to come.
Yes, once again, Tom Petty has gathered together Mudcrutch, the group he formed in 1970 with guitarist Tom Leadon. Along with Marsh on drums, singer Jim Lenehan, and guitarist Mike Campbell, Mudcrutch became a house band at a local bar in their hometown of Gainesville, Florida, They moved to Los Angeles after getting signed, had members come and go (keyboardist Benmont Tench joined and Lenehan left), and eventually disbanded. Petty, Campbell and Tench later recruited drummer Stan Lynch and bassist Ron Blair to form the Heartbreakers.
Reforming in 2007, Mudcrutch's self-titled debut album dropped in 2008 to mostly positive reviews and reception. Apparently, it took another seven years before the band decided to give it another shot. The wait was well worth it. "Beautiful Blue" is slow and sly, lifting the listener from the swampiness that Mudcrutch often mines, informed Tench's jazzy piano turns and Petty's slow, easy vocal.
Leadon's "The Other Side of the Mountain" mixes banjo and Marsh's train-like snare. Tench's "Welcome to Hell" (which he sings) is a Jerry Lee Lewis-like send-up, while Campbell's "Victim Of Circumstance" enlists what sounds like all the vocalists here. It's a straight-ahead stomper, showing off some precision bass playing from Petty. Organ swirls and upfront harmonica upfront with Petty on lead vocals, enriched by Leadon and Tench's harmonies, make the mid-tempo, nearly angelic "Hungry No More" provide a perfect end to the album.
Surely, one may argue with only a cursory listen that the 11 tunes on 2 could easily belong to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. But when you listen a little deeper, Mudcrutch definitely has a personality all its own. Petty steps back and provides space for Leadon, with his harmonies and strong rhythm guitar sense, to accentuate something a little different. Songs written by Campbell, Leadon, Tench and even Marsh make Mudcrutch more of a democracy and less of a Petty-led side project. With his name at the top of the marquee for 40 years, perhaps being a team player in Mudcrutch takes a little bit of the pressure off of always being the boss.
~ Ralph Greco, Jr.