By Chris Moore:
RATING: 3 / 5 stars
I’ll never forget the day I first read the biography of Mudcrutch.
It was a surreal set of circumstances — Mudcrutch was a band that had gone unnoticed by most and been forgotten by those few who had taken an interest during their five year run from 1970 to 1975. They had formed as a small town band, moved out to Los Angeles in pursuit of a record contract, and broken apart under the pressures of their record label and the departure of band members.
A year later, three of the Mudcrutch refugees would go on to form a band that you may have heard of…
It was a tantalizing tale, and I could barely contain my excitement for this music. In some small way, I felt like I would be able — for once! — to take part in the debut release of a band I felt truly passionate about. This was not simply the unveiling of a band’s first album; this was an opportunity to be transported back in time nearly four decades to an entirely different rock and roll landscape than I’ve grown accustomed to in the new millennium.
You get the idea.
And, at least initially, Mudcrutch held up to the hype.
The first song that caught my attention was “Scare Easy,” a mid-tempo number that may have Petty’s trademark vocals on it, but is clearly not your typical Heartbreakers track. If anything, it sounds more like his previous solo album, but even then, it has a unique sound.
Other tracks on the album are standouts, even amongst the considerable catalog items that Petty, Campbell, and Tench have amassed over the years. Songs like “The Wrong Thing To Do” and “Bootleg Flyer” are unique, upbeat, and very promising. “Orphan of the Storm” may be one of the best examples of what this band sounds like, blending older country and blues textures with a seventies rock and roll mentality lurking in the backbeat.
These excellent tracks notwithstanding, there are a number of tracks that suffer from that middle-of-the-road, “so what?” stupor that few can induce like Tom Petty. In fact, most of the second half of the album is forgettable, populated by a pedestrian tune from Benmont Tench, a forgettable Tom Leadon track that confirms why he fell short of the success his brother (the former Eagle) and Petty achieved, “June Apple,” and “Topanga Cowgirl.”
In fact, two of the best tracks on the album are covers: “Six Days on the Road” and “Lover of the Bayou.” The former is a pretty straightforward number, but an exemplar for country rock. The latter, co-written by Roger McGuinn (of the Byrds) and Jacques Levy (popularly known for his collaborations with Bob Dylan on 1978’s “Street Legal”), is a candidate for the best Mudcrutch performance on tape to date. Even the traditional “Shady Grove” is beautifully translated as the perfect opener.
On first listen, Mudcrutch was a joy. Track by track, I loved it. It was only after repeated listens that it began to lose its luster and fade into mediocrity. This is a case where I think my excitement for the story surrounding the band colored my perception of the music they produced.
Each time I return to it, I try to feel what I did that first week after its release in 2008, but to no avail. Even though I’ve hesitated to admit it, Mudcrutch is a three star album from what could have been — and, at least, three fifths went on to be — a five star band.
Take note of that: in music, as in life, some combinations just weren’t meant to be, no matter how much you love the individuals. You may look back and ponder what could have been.
It’s perhaps better left to the imagination.