Album Review : The Dirty Knobs – Wreckless Abandon

Review by Peter Coates –

Released Nov 2020

Something of an unsung legend of the contemporary rock’n’roll scene, Mike Campbell has been the guitarist with the likes of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (co-writing Refugee and Runnin’ Down A Dream among many others), and Fleetwood Mac in the recent incarnation, as well as being a songwriter with credits for such monster hits as Don Henley’s Boys of Summer, and songs with Neil Diamond, Bob Seger, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan and too many other musical giants to mention.

So some pedigree right there, and the Dirty Knobs project was established in 2008 to allow a rougher edge to the normal material, deriving the influences and sound from real old school rock such as The Kinks, The Animals, Rolling Stones and early Led Zeppelin.  The band rolled around doing low-key shows in between other better-paid work, and has waited until 2020 to record an album, and is made up of Campbell out front and on guitar, with Jason Sinay (Neil Diamond) on guitars, Lance Morrison (Don Henley) on bass and Matt Laug (Slash) on drums.  There are contributions from Chris Stapleton and fellow Heartbreaker Benmont Tench, and Campbell produced the album alongside George Drakoulias (The Black Crowes, Primal Scream, Screaming Trees and The Jayhawks).

The stimulus for getting this outfit into the studio was really the death of Tom Petty in 2017, as a way of honoring the spirit of the long and deep relationship between the two.

The album is such a good listen, with plenty of nods back to Petty with more guitars and less keyboards, but also to a wide range of contemporaries and common influences such as JJ Cale and John Lee Hooker.  Opening with the title track, Wreckless Abandon has the jangly guitars and toe-tapping beat, and the slightly reedy twang in the voice, from so many Tom Petty records, and the surprising key change into each chorus – straight-up good time rock’n’roll. 

Good mate Chris Stapleton pops up on a country-rock duet in Pistol Packin’ Mama that could have been a Stones outtake, with the low-slung guitars to the fore and a real honky-tonk vibe to the riff and the piano in the background as the guitars range around in the outro.  More in your face guitars with Sugar, the drums and cowbell just solid from Matt Laug, and the lyrics very much in the school of 1980’s bad boy attitudes!  Maybe the heaviest track on the record, there is a steaming big bass line in the mid-section here from Lance Morrison, and some Lenny Kravitz vibes in the chorus and the obligatory Campbell outro solo. 

Southern Boy drives along nicely as a fuzz-toned early ZZ Top might sound is crossed with Primal Scream – more of a southern blues drawl in the vocals than the Petty twang here, and yet more evidence of the skill and variety in Campbell’s exquisite guitar-playing.  There is a great eastern tone and off-beat rhythm to I Still Love You, which reminds me somewhat of Mike Tramp and White Lion in sound and structure, and jumps between quiet stripped back verse to raucous chorus, and features a momentous guitar-hero solo mid-song, that is perhaps eclipsed by the song’s final segment, when Campbell absolutely lets rip over the pounding backing and driving guitars.   A drop in tempo and power for the Van Morrison-esque Irish Girl, with lots of harmonica and echoing acoustic guitar is a pleasant respite from the cracking first half of the record, before the wonderfully tongue-in-cheek ballad of one of life’s jerks, with the sardonic lyrics of Fuck That Guy delivered in an almost spoken-work form with a delicate blues guitar line throughout.  

Old school Delta Blues in the vocal delivery and rumbling slide guitar lines of Don’t Knock The Boogie which tells a wonderful story of the characters in a sleazy barroom band and crowd that conjures up so many wonderful images, and builds up in intensity over the first three minutes, before the bands kicks in and the guitars of Campbell and Sinay play off against each other for a couple more minutes of guitar-porn, before in trues Blues style, the song slides back to the basics, before ramping up to a harmonica and guitar driven crescendo – 7 minutes of pure joy.

There is more dirty blues guitar on Don’t Wait which really shows off some of those classic blues-rock roots and demonstrates yet again just what a great guitarist Campbell is, right up there with Clapton or Joe Walsh to grab a couple of names out of the ether.  There are powerchords to burn in here too, underpinning the ear-worm of a riff that runs through the track.  Anna Lee is another mellow and melodic ballad, and Aw Honey is an upbeat southern blues-rocker with classic bluesman lyrics that fit perfectly with the sound and feel of the song.

Loaded Gun 

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Photo – Pamela Littky