Before becoming the classic rock juggernaut that is Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, a group of musicians from Gainesville, Florida called themselves Mudcrutch, living on a communal farm not far from Dub's Bar, where they were the house band. The core members consisted of Petty, Tom Leadon (brother of Bernie, of the Eagles and Flying Burrito Brothers), Randall Marsh, and future Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench.
Mudcrutch recorded a single ("Up in Mississippi Tonight" b/w "Cause is Understood") at Criteria Studios in Miami, and released on its own label, Red Pepper Records. The single went nowhere, but the band headed west to Sunny California in search of a record deal. They got the deal, but broke up after releasing a second 45, which did little better than the first. The label focused their attention on the bass player, a skinny dude named Tom Petty, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Fast forward 30 years, and Mudcrutch has risen from the ashes to finally release their debut album.
And it's a damn fine record.
In fact, it's the best thing that Petty has done in years, reminiscent of his work with the Traveling Wilburys, a project born out of the love of playing music. It's actually closer to the Wilburys sound than the original Mudcrutch, a mix of old school rocking and country rock textures. The first cut, "Shady Grove" is a traditional number given a Chestnut Mare-era Byrds-type arrangement, and elsewhere on the disc the band covers Roger McGuinn's "Lover of the Bayou" for good measure. There's a nice version of Dave Dudley's truck stop country classic "Six Days on the Road," which was also covered by the Burritos.
Two tracks stand out as instant classics: "Scare Easy" is top-shelf TP, with a contagious melody and a killer chorus, while "Crystal River," clocking in at over nine minutes, is an almost Allman Brothers-like song with an extended jam that allows Campbell, Leadon, and Tench to stretch out and extrapolate themes in a way rarely heard in the Petty canon.
Mudcrutch is a worthy addition to that canon, and stands on its own as an excellent album, regardless of who's in the band.