In 2007, Tom Petty decided to reform Mudcrutch, his pre-Heartbreakers band, to record their long-overdue self-titled debut. Mudcrutch of course is the band that eventually became the Heartbreakers, with Petty retaining keyboardist Benmont Tench and lead guitarist Mike Campbell. While the original Mudcrutch had other members come and go, the trio of Petty, Tench and Campbell, along with guitarist Tom Leadon (brother of Bernie) and drummer Randall Marsh round out the current incarnation of the band.
The group played a handful of shows before Petty reconvened the Heartbreakers for a pair of albums, 2010’s Mojo and 2014’s Hypnotic Eye. Mudcrutch had, once again, seemed a thing of the past. What a pleasant surprise it was then to find Petty not only had gotten Mudcrutch back together, but also released a second album - the excellent 2 - an album even more band oriented than the group’s first.
The CD leads off with “Trailer,” a Southern Accents-era outtake that first appeared on Petty’s Playback box. It is reworked for the Mudcrutch release, however. The song has a bit of a Springsteen vibe, with its jangly guitars and harmonica. More than anything, it is a piece of smartly crafted pop in the classic Petty tradition. Leadon shares vocals with Petty on the hard-rocking “Dreams Of Flying,” a track featuring prominent organ and loud, ringing guitars. The guitar interplay between Leadon and Campbell, both here and throughout, is stellar. It speaks to the pair’s chemistry that it sounds like they have been playing together since the early 1970s.
Petty slows down the pace with the aptly titled “Beautiful Blue.” The song is a moody, atmospheric track, the type Petty seems to churn out effortlessly, and could easily fit onto any of his latter-period albums. The playing here is gorgeous. Tench bathes the track in organ and piano, while the guitarists offer tasteful, intricate leads. Petty chooses to show off his folk side on “I Forgive It All,” a pretty ballad with reflective lyrics.
While Petty is still the driving force of the album, writing seven of its 11 tracks, the other four band members have one songwriting credit each, often taking (or sharing) lead vocal duties. Marsh contributes “Beautiful World,” a straight-ahead rocker with a strong descending guitar riff and killer harmonies from Petty. Petty and Leadon share vocals on Leadon’s “The Other Side Of The Mountain,” a country rocker showcasing Herb Pedersen on banjo and background vocals. The album in general has a healthy dose of country rock mixed with the usual jangly guitars found on Petty releases.
Tench offers up the 1950s-sounding rocker “Welcome To Hell,” with its rollicking piano and tongue-in-cheek lyrics while Campbell delivers the up-tempo southern rock of “Victim Of Circumstance.” All four members share vocal duties on this fun number while Leadon gives a fiery guitar solo. Petty may be the leader here, but this is definitely a band, and all four members have their voices and contributions heard throughout.
While it certainly helps that three-fifths of this band have played together for over 40 years, Leadon and Marsh do not feel out of place here at all. Rather, it feels as if they have been along for the ride the whole time. The songs are strong and the chemistry is even stronger. One can hope that it doesn’t take almost a decade before the next Mudcrutch release.