Wreckless Abandon

The Dirty Knobs

BMG, 2020


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


If we’re being real, and I think we should, the winkingly-named Dirty Knobs are Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers fame, and three other guys who are just happy to be here. Which is no knock on Jason Sinay (guitars/vocals), Lance Morrison (bass) and Matt Lang (drums/vocals); they’re solid pros who support Campbell’s songs with muscle and flair. But realistically, most people are going to pick this one up for the sole purpose of hearing what Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Campbell sounds like fronting his own band.

The answer is pretty damned good. The first question when any notorious guitar-slinger steps to center stage is always the same: yeah, but can he (or she) sing? Plenty can, to be sure, but more common is a case like Keith Richards, whose solo albums feature that familiar biting guitar tone and curled-lip sass in support of a voice that succeeds mostly in making you miss Mick.

Campbell’s voice is solid enough—definitely a cut above Keef’s—but what’s fascinating to hear is how 40 years of standing next to Tom Petty singing his (and in many cases, their) songs has influenced Campbell’s vocals. Time after time, inflections creep into his phrasing that snap your eyes wide open as you realize he’s singing the song just like Tom would have. And that is remarkable, and touching, and kind of wonderful, because it doesn’t feel at all like an imitation or even a homage; it’s just that the two spent so many years on stage and in the studio together that Campbell instinctively attacks a lyric with that same idiosyncratic flair. They were musical brothers for 40-plus years, and in a very real sense, they still are.

With that as preface, let’s get to the songs on Wreckless Abandonmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 , which unsurprisingly—and thankfully—lean hard on Campbell’s muscular, fluid, often stinging guitar. The opening title track has the warm, familiar feel of a big-boned Petty-Campbell rocker, pulling you in with some of those familiar stop-starts and drop-outs before the album takes a sharp left turn for a swampy-fun novelty tune featuring guest Chris Stapleton (“Pistol Packin’ Mama”).  

Batting third, “Sugar” features the big, crunchy, playful blues-rock sound heard on Petty tunes like “Honey Bee” and “Cabin Down Below,” a nod to these Gainesville boys’ musical cousins just up the Delta. Campbell proves again that riffs are his strength when he rhymes “kitchen” with “itching” in a lyric that’s a pure goof, but if fun is what you’re after*, you’re in the right place. (*And guitar… lots of guitar.)

“Southern Boy” continues the bruising licks, adding a boogie rhythm section as Campbell revisits his roots, name-dropping Jacksonville FLA while channeling Petty again at the mic. Airy, thundering blues ballad “I Still Love You” delivers sledgehammer riffing and powerhouse solos before “Irish Girl” eases back on the throttle for a delicate acoustic ballad. “Fuck That Guy” is a straight-up lark with a spoke-sung lyric that had me imagining TP laughing his ass off as Campbell demoed it for him, and then trying to figure out how he could use the bass line in some other song.

If you’ve ever wondered how enthusiastic Campbell was about Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 2010 album Mojo, which leaned heavily on hard blues and Texas boogie sounds, “Don’t Knock the Boogie” feels like your answer, sounding something like John Lee Hooker (who’s referenced in the lyric) sitting in with ZZ Top. It’s basically a spoken-word piece over a backbeat until Campbell calls out to the imaginary band he’s been describing, cues its guitar player, and rips out a raging solo. “Don’t Wait” is a similarly gritty blues-rocker featuring a wailing, extended solo that goes off like a hand grenade, and too many Petty-isms to count in Campbell’s snarly lead vocal. By contrast, on acoustic ballad “Anna Lee,” he layers his vocals with reverb, plays it straight, and sounds like nobody but Mike.

The final quarter turns up the volume again as we move through another pure lark, the mid-tempo blues rocker “Aw Honey” (featuring fellow Heartbreaker Benmont Tench on piano), and blazing closer “Loaded Gun,” where it sounds like Campbell shares lead vocals with Sinay. The album finishes with a sly P.S. in the form of a brief but playful acoustic reprise of “Don’t Knock the Boogie.”

In many ways this feels like the extra-greasy Southern fried cousin of the Mojo album. The lyrics aren’t likely to win any awards, but we can’t all be Shakespeare (or even Tom Petty). The songs are all delivered with grit and fire, the arrangements and production are strong, and the guitars are fantastic. Wreckless Abandon is frothy, boisterous fun, an afternoon in the clubhouse with a quartet of talented guys who just love to play.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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