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Mudcrutch 2 is Heartbreakers redux, though that’s not a bad thing

Mudcrutch can claim its own musical identity all it wants. But after several listens, its aptly titled sophomore album Mudcrutch 2 comes across as a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers record with few accoutrements.

Of course, that should hardly come as breaking news. Mudcrutch was formed at the dawn of the 1970s and served as a precursor to Petty’s famed outfit with two Heartbreakers — guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench — as key members. Its slant was toward country-rock, but when initial tracks cut for Leon Russell’s Shelter Records failed to spit sparks, a retreat was called. Mudcrutch became history in 1975 with Petty and the Heartbreakers forming a year later.

Mudcrutch 2 is the second album since Mudcrutch became an active workman’s holiday project for Petty over the past decade. A well-received, self-titled debut album by one of its founding lineups surfaced in 2008 that made no real attempt deviate from the elder midtempo vibe the Heartbreakers had adopted on its recent records. The new album wipes all remaining contrasts clean between the bands. Listen to any of the seven songs Petty wrote and sings lead on for Mudcrutch 2 next to anything from the last two Heartbreakers albums (2010’s Mojo and 2014’s Hypnotic Eye) and the music is indistinguishable. But really, is that such a problem?

Actually, the Heartbreakers probably have more to answer for with such a confluence, having decidedly mellowed since the raging days of Damn the Torpedoes and Hard Promises. Mudcrutch, though, was always comfortable with downshifting.

The Dylan-esque Mudcrutch 2 opener Trailer, for instance, is a dead ringer for any song cut by the Heartbreakers over the past three decades. It’s a blast of elemental power-pop loaded with enough everyman imagery to defuse Petty’s rock celeb status. By the time Mudcrutch 2 eases into Beautiful Blue, the stride of the relaxed, latter day Heartbreakers — a sound with a color and comfort all its own — comes into play. Sure, there are strains of pedal steel to suggest Mudcrutch’s roots, but they are incidental and ornamental. The song’s lovely neo-psychedelic cool anchored by Campbell and Tench is a Heartbreakers trademark.

Campbell, Tench, co-guitarist Tom Leadon and drummer Randall Marsh split vocal leads and writing credits on the four non-Petty tunes, all of which are unremarkable. When Petty gets rolling on the 1960s-heavy, organ-drenched romp Hope or the elegiac finale tune Hungry No More, Mudcrutch shows its truest profile. Almost inevitably, it will forever be an erstwhile band in a Tom Petty world.

Mudcrutch performs at 8:30 Friday on the Sawyer Point stage as part of the Bunbury Music Festival, 705 E. Pete Rose Way in Cincinnati. Gates open at 1 p.m. Single days tickets are $89 through TicketMaster. See festival preview story on page 5.

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