The bar of “too much of a good thing” is way high if not nearly non-existent when it comes to Tom Petty. If one loves real rock’n’roll and rock’n’roll that’s real – two distinct things; style and intent – it really doesn’t much matter whether it’s Tom solo or Petty and the Heartbreakers or in this case Mudcrutch (or for that matter his contributions to The Traveling Wilburys, which we dearly wish could make more music). Sure, Petty, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench figure into all three. Yet they are distinctly different vehicles (try A/B-ing this disc with 2014’s Hypnotic Eye to clearly hear the distinctions).
Since attaining a certain stature and seasoning as an artist, everything Petty does should come with a seal of quality and authenticity that guarantees satisfaction and enjoyment. It’s over-simplifying to call Mudcrutch his roots band just as it’s an over simplification to tag Petty as a roots rocker. But as compared with his other ventures, his revived early-to-mid-’70s Northern Florida band is based in their shared musical backstory. Where the group’s previous album had something of a reunion vibe running through it, on 2 they now feel like a full-throttle band, even for all the variety within what’s an elastic ’70s American guitar rock spirit, Southern division.
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No covers this time out, though what was a Heartbreakers Southern Accents outtake, “Trailer,” plants the flag as the first track, sketching out the milieu where Mudcrutch made their bones as a band all those years ago. And that’s what this project is all about – a band making music together, less concerned about production and the dictates of the music “industry.”
Each member gets a song. Tom Leadon’s “The Other Side of the Mountain” brings the same sort of harmonized country rocking that his brother Bernie brought to the early Eagles. Despite its title, Benmont’s “Welcome to Hell” is a rollicking slice of basic rock’n’roll fun. Campbell’s “Victim of Circumstance” is a bouncier variation on the same larger theme. All good stuff.
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But (naturally) it’s Petty who shines most even in the band context. Drummer Randall Marsh shows he can write like Tom – twist of pop in the rock cocktail, for one thing – on “Beautiful World.” And Petty blows smoke rings from the Mudcrutch era with “Save Your Water” (remember the country-rock of the late-period Byrds?) and echoes the pre-punk ’60s blasts from the garage with “Hope.” But as a world-class artist should and he does with remarkable consistency, he summons up a time and space all the song’s own with the fittingly named “Beautiful Blue,” a flowing prayer of praise for another (unidentifiable) artist that’s the six-minute-plus centerpiece and heart of this set (frosted with delectable solos by Campbell and Tench).
Mudcrutch’s 2 is nothin’ too fancy, quite pleasurable band rock, and – there’s that word again – real as a life is long. Would have sounded right as rain back in the day, plays wonderfully now, and, say, 20 years hence, you can pull it out and play it and this set will still feel fine. Can we really ask for much more?