Tom Petty’s Legacy Proves Secure with Debut Album from Mike Campbell’s The Dirty Knobs (Album Review #26)

Mike Campbell's The Dirty Knobs Announce Debut Album & Tour Dates

I’d seen some mention of The Dirty Knobs’ debut album, and I knew I’d be getting around to it, but I hadn’t had the chance to do so yet. My brother Steve also knew I’d be interested in seeing what Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell had been up to since he got off the road with Fleetwood Mac, so he sent me a link to an article that detailed some of what Tom Petty’s right hand man has been working on in the three years since the legend’s passing.

I’ve always been a fan of Campbell’s work and stylings, but I had been especially blown away by his work on Tom and the Heartbreakers’ final studio album, 2014’s Hypnotic Eye. I recall writing about that in my review of that album (re-blogged recently on this site), and I recall talking with Steve about it at the time.

Steve’s a big part of this process for me; my primary lifelong music partner, Steve knows I like to stay abreast, and he sends along things he knows I’ll be interested in. In fact, I’d say somewhere around half of the musical thoughts you read on this site are things I’ve fleshed out in the conversations that he and I have.

So, he sent me the link to the article, and I got around to paying attention to The Dirty Knobs’ Wreckless Abandon sooner than I would have if he hadn’t. As always, I appreciate him going out of his way to help make my life better through music, which he certainly did this time around.

Like it was for millions of fans, Tom Petty’s death was a rough one for me. There are rock and roll stars, and then there was Tom. And that’s who he was to us; he was just Tom. In his jean jackets an mussed looks, we could tell that he was untarnished by all the other image trappings that sometimes go along with the fame, success, and money.

What’s more, he made American rock and roll. Tom’s music didn’t fit into any niche or subgenre other than that, which made it appealing, or at least respected by music fans across the board.

Nor was Tom ever in the news for acting like a bratty celebrity, He was working class, and even people who couldn’t really dig the music could dig the man.

For those of us who can dig the music, however, Mike Campbell and his Dirty Knobs have a refreshing gift.

After more than four decades working with the man, it would be crazy to think that Mike Campbell wouldn’t produce music that sounds similar to that which he played with Tom Petty. Still, I wouldn’t have imagined that he would produce any songs that sound this much like the music that TP and the Heartbreakers made. However, that is exactly what has happened. All of the songs here don’t sound the same, but a number of these tunes sound like they came right off of a Tom Petty album.

Not all of it does, but a good bit of it does. Possibly the song that sounds most like it would fit on a Petty record is “Loaded Gun.” Campbell’s voice and vocal style are even similar to Petty’s, and the drive and groove of the song have the Heartbreakers written all over them.

But just like the Petty albums, the straight ahead rock and roll style of a song like “Loaded Gun” isn’t indicative of every song; There is also torchy bluesy almost power ballad, “I Still Love You.” I know it’s strange to think of Tom Petty doing a power ballad, but this song does sound like a song one could find it on a TP album and it does also have power ballad elements.

“Aw Honey” rings true to Heartbreaker heritage as it fits in the vein of playful honky-tonk blues songs that aren’t too far from humorous. Despite the playful nature of this one, the musicianship is masterful, and it’s hard for me to say that this isn’t my favorite song on the record. I just love rock and roll by musicians who can take the music seriously, but not themselves so much.

“Lockdown Part II” doesn’t feel as much like a Petty song, but it makes its 2020 mark by addressing the pandemic and the ensuing shutdown. With searing lines like “Got a COVID patient with a thousand mile stare, a quarter million dead, does anybody care,” Campbell voices his displeasure with the nation’s handling of the pandemic and the band does it in a fitting driving style.

The Dirty Knobs also address COVID in the tune that all of us could have written, as they personify the virus in “F**k that Guy.” I won’t share the video here, because I try to limit these posts to four favorite songs, and, while, the tune is unique–as far as I’ve seen–and cute, it’s just not one of my favorite songs on the album.

Still, it’s worth a listen, as is the rest of the album. If you give a listen to these I’ve shared, I imagine you’ll be interested enough to check out the rest of the album. I highly recommend doing so, especially to you Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fans who, in lieu of new music from them, won’t mind settling for what has to be the next best thing.

And that’s that one, my friends. As always, I hope I’ve turned you onto some music that helps to make your life a more enjoyable place. If so, then this old pen will have proven that it still has some value in it. Few things would please me more than that.

Until soon, my friends, be kind to one another, and remember that we’re all more alike than we are different.

Much love, many prayers.

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