Mudcrutch 2 is proof positive Tom Petty regards his work seriously with the band that preceded the Heartbreakers. But then why wouldn’t he?–working with this quintet allows him an opportunity as unique as it is practical, that is, a deliberate and valid means to revisit to his past. At the same time, however, he and the group face the same challenge facing every band early in its recording career, that is, how to follow-up their first record.
It’s not long into the initial track, “Trailer,” however, that it becomes obvious how Mudcrutch allows Petty an intimacy and informality not readily available to him with the oeuvre of the Heartbreakers. The gentle guitar chording of “Dreams of Flying” exhibits how Petty functions as the five-some’s titular leader (and bassist!) in low-key studio sessions that nurture this lineup’s own distinct camaraderie. Along with right-hand man, guitarist Mike Campbell, the contributions of keyboardist Benmont Tench, playing elegant piano on “Beautiful Blue,” maintains a crucial continuity with Petty’s extensive body of work. Along those same lines, the detailed true-to-life character depiction of “I Forgive it All” has been his stock-in-trade as a songwriter since Damn the Torpedoe
Delicate acoustic guitars there correlate to the double-time track written by guitarist/vocalist Tom Leadon, “The Other Side of the Mountain;” a double-time tune led by guest Herb Pedersen’s banjo; at first, this rootsy track sounds a bit facile for its own good, that is, until Petty’s drawl literally and figuratively reinforces the validity of the song, It’s a point driven home in similar fashion when TP’s voice blends into drummer Randall Marsh’s during the bridge of “Beautiful World: ” here’s where it begins to become clear Mudcrutch functions in a more democratic approach than that of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. That dynamic also results in the tongue-in-cheek likes of “Hope,” where fuzz guitar and Farfisa organ hearken to trashy garage rock: what might come across as mere novelty ultimately sounds as earnest as it is honest.
This cut, just past the half-way point of the baker’s dozen cuts on 2, begs to be turned up loud: because Mudcrutch is playing almost purely for the fun of it. Similarly, during the cracked rockabilly of “Welcome to Hell.” there’s no mistaking the pleasure the quintet’s taking in the boogie-woogie with the song’s author Tench on lead vocals, but that levity does nothing to undermine the practiced engineering of Ryan Ulyate as he recorded and mixed this record with such uniform expertise.
As Campbell intones his own composition, “Victim of Circumstances,” the nasal tone and phrasing of his voice may be all-too reminiscent of his boss, but the glee is unmistakable and that lighthearted air functions well as a set up for the more somber likes of “Hungry No More;” a piece of cinema in song, it’s as vivid in its own way as the emotion expression at the heart of the kiss-off in “Save Your Water.” Such sophisticated material renders negligible the absence of an extended improvisation, like that of “Crystal River” on the Mudcrutch debut of 2008, as its mix with spontaneous musicianship injects 2 with the potency it radiates from the very first listen.