What does it sound like?:
Tom Petty’s right hand man Mike Campbell was a perfect sidekick – capable of coming up with hit making riffs (“Refugee” for example), solos long on melody and short on widdle, solid in the recording department and no desire to distract the audience from Tom, who was, after all, the main act. He could also make other acts sound great too when not on Heartbreaker duty or knock up the odd hit for others (“Boys of summer” for Don Henley).
With the tragic departure of Tom you might think he would disappear into special guest territory, sort of famous but unwanted (what else did Mitch Mitchell do, for example). But no, it seems he had a side band all the time, doing bar gigs and having fun. Their launch as a proper act was delayed by Mike disappearing on tour with Fleetwood Mac for a year, but finally in December the first album by The Dirty Knobs appeared. OK OK, it’s a terrible name.
There is nothing surprising and experimental here, but equally Mike’s songwriting chops are in fine form. The material ranges from good time country rock (“Pistol Packin’ Mama”), heartfelt country (“Irish Girl”), songs sounding like the rockier end of the Heartbreakers catalogue (“Southern Boy”), “Exile” era Rolling Stones swagger but with a real American singer (eponymous opener “Wreckless Abandon”) and even a country blues number you could think is about the unloved ex-US President but whose video suggests is also about Coronavirus (“Fuck that guy”). In interviews Mike references the bluesier and rockier end of the British invasion – Yardbirds, Kinks, Troggs – and the arrangements reflect this with crunchy guitars and at one point a delicious breakdown to fuzz bass which sounds like a Star bass through a knackered AC30 in some sticky floored pub in 1964. Of course, you can hear echoes of Tom in the music, though based on the evidence you could argue that the Heartbreakers albums are more infused with MC than people might have thought.
Mike’s voice is reminiscent of Tom without the stoned drawl and is perfectly up to the job. Not a “lead singer” but rather the guitarist singing but not to undervalue it – he never sang with the Heartbreakers so I did wonder but it’s fine. The sound of the album is tip top, beefy and well produced. The guitar playing is, of course, quite superb.
What does it all *mean*?
It means in these darkest of times I am well in the mood for some well-crafted, big hearted heartland rock. Things are dark enough and the idea of those carefree days returning when you could hire a car, drive down Highway 1 with the roof open listening to music like this make me well up with nostalgia. Not long now, though, eh?
Goes well with…
Well honestly, working from home in front of Microsoft bloody Teams, though I am sure driving don Highway 1 with the roof open would work too.
Might suit people who like…
Tom Petty, FM heartland rock, good chunes, good playin’.