Disc Reviews: Mudcrutch and Steve Winwood

While Tom Petty takes on the bass duties in Mudcrutch, his voice is still out front.

mudcrutch 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
mudcrutch 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
MUDCRUTCH Mudcrutch (Hatav Hashmini) You may not recognize the name, but most of the players in Mudcrutch are very familiar. Tom Petty, along with two of his Heartbreakers - guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench - have reunited with the two other original members of their pre-Heartbreakers, mid-'70s band and have gotten around to finally releasing their debut album. And like Petty's 1980s excursions with the Travelling Wilburys and on his own sporadic solo albums, the results - recorded live in the studio in a 10-day session - are highly enjoyable, steeped in a relaxed, rootsy feel. While Petty takes on the bass duties in Mudcrutch, his voice is still out front, whether trading verses with guitarist Tom Leadon (original Eagle Bernie Leadon's brother) on the traditional country opener "Shady Grove" or rocking out on the standard trucking song "Six Days on the Road." Another cover, a scorching version of Roger McGuinn's "Lover of the Bayou," answers the question of how a merger of The Byrds and Lynyrd Skynyrd would sound. The Petty originals are pretty awesome as well, with "Scare Easy" boasting a Heartbreakers groove, "Bootleg Flyer" taking off on a southern rock excursion and "Orphan of the Storm" paying tribute to the Gram Parsons school of country rock. Even the pure pop, sunny sing-along sound of "Topanga Cowgirl" sounds perfectly in line with rest of the album, which acts as sort of a primer for rock, circa 1971. Only a meandering Ryan Adams-meets-Grateful Dead jam on "Crystal River" and a couple of pedestrian bluesy rockers detract from the feel-good vibes that dominate the rest of this "debut" of the year. STEVE WINWOOD Nine Lives (NMC) Nine Lives indeed. Rock & roll survivor Steve Winwood looks amazing on the cover of his new album, and he sounds just as youthful. Unfortunately, the material he's come up with on his first major-label release in 11 years can't hold a candle to the performances. Winwood, with a long, illustrious career ranging from The Spencer Davis Group to Traffic to Blind Faith to an on-again, off-again solo career, seems to have settled into an easy-listening jazz funk groove - reminiscent of some Traffic material, but without the oomph. Thankfully, Winwood has stored away the synth pop sound that marred his earlier solo work. Focusing on the Hammond organ on most tracks, Winwood is a keyboard virtuoso, and his playing nudges along many of the nondescript tunes like "At Times We Do Forget" and "Raging Sea" to a higher level. His vocals - still all marbles in the mouth, husky and soulful - haven't lost any of their appeal. But aside from the sinewy "Dirty City," with help on guitar from Eric Clapton, this is mostly background music - exceptionally and intricately played - but background music nonetheless. The jazzy single "We're All Looking" includes some stellar ensemble work and interesting passages, but most of the other material is simply forgettable. Winwood's ninth life deserves better.