The Tampa Tribune — May 8, 2008

Tom Petty’s ‘Mudcrutch’ Has A Southern Accent
By Curtis Ross
The Tampa Tribune — May 8, 2008

All praises to whatever provoked Tom Petty to make an album with his pre-Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch, because it is among the best works in a catalog that’s not short on excellent work.

Mudcrutch featured (and features) Petty on bass, future Heartbreakers Mike Campbell on guitar and Benmont Tench on keyboards, as well as Tom Leadon on guitar and Randall Marsh on drums. No, it’s not a million miles away from Petty’s solo and Heartbreakers’ work. But it does show a greater country influence, a looseness and, well, a Southern-ness that’s less apparent in his other work.

Petty wrote the lion’s share of the material, but the program also includes a couple of re-arranged traditional folk tunes, a Byrds remake, trucker anthem “Six Days on the Road,” and compostions by Tench and Leadon.

The loose feel means everything hangs together, regardless of source.

The centerpiece is “Crystal River,” a gorgeous nine-and-a-half minute jam that is unlike anything else in Petty’s history. And yet it fits in perfectly, a gently rolling tune with gorgeous lyrical imagery and some magnificent piano work from Tench.

Another standout is “Orphan of the Storm,” the most straightforward country tune Petty’s released. Like R.E.M.’s “Houston,” it’s a character sketch of a Hurricane Katrina refugee that gets across the tragedy without sinking into sentiment or grandiose statements.

“The Wrong Thing to Do” is the down-and-dirty flipside to “Down South,” on Petty’s 2006 album, “Highway Companion.” Petty’s attention to detail makes the song especially compelling, as does the band’s hard-as-nails playing.

Leadon’s “Queen of the Go-Go Girls” is a classic hard country lament in the vein of “Close Up the Honky Tonks,” while Tench’s “This Is a Good Street” is a terse, no-nonsense kiss-off.

Petty, remarkably, seems even more vital as a writer and performer than he did 30 years ago. “Mudcrutch” is proof.

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