March 8, 2021 The Dirty Knobs – Wreckless Abandon (Album Review)
Helmed by Mike Campbell, The Dirty Knobs released Wreckless Abandon, their long-awaited oft-delayed debut album, through BMG on November 20, 2020. Known for his work with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, as well as dozens of collaborations with musicians such as Stevie Nicks, Don Henley (“The Boys of Summer”), Tracy Chapman, and Joe Cocker, Wreckless Abandon is about the closest Campbell has come to a solo record to date. As such, he handles lead vocals and guitar, and is backed by Jason Sinay on guitar, Matt Laug on drums, and Lance Morrison on bass.
Final work on the album was delayed slightly when Campbell took time to join Fleetwood Mac for their 2018-19 touring cycle. Once the dust cleared, the album’s release was then delayed further by the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed the date from March 20 to September 18, eventually landing November 20. Without irony, the band used the zeitgeist to their advantage and adapted their asshole mantra “Fuck That Guy” into a music video, one where COVID-19 assumes the title role, meeting (rather than meting) physical violence from all passers-by. Underneath the hood, the track features Campbell projecting a rawer, more vulgar Mark Knopfler, a theme which runs under a handful of other tracks, as well.
“Don’t Knock the Boogie” throws a nod in that same direction, even going so far as to mirror the introductions made famous in “Sultans of Swing.” The guitar licks here are much edgier, channeling a bit of George Thorogood along the way. The band hits a unique stride with “Southern Boy”; the track sounds like Tom Petty in body and spirit, but rather than imply a lift or a steal, the track shows how much Mike Campbell contributed to the core Heartbreakers sound over the years. The track is a solid, steady express, slowly gaining steam and eventually barreling toward the user with all pistons firing.
Most songs hover around the five-minute mark, with the indulging “Don’t Knock the Boogie” a hair under seven (its closing coda barely tops one). Another exception is the title track, an Eastern-tinged opener that lays out and preps a wide musical palette for the listener that stretches far beyond the early Rock-N-Roll and Southern Rock one might expect from a former Heartbreaker.
The duet “Pistol Packin’ Mama” arose from a chance encounter Campbell had with musician Chris Stapleton. The song itself was already recorded and ready for pressing but the two met for a separate collaboration, portions of which influenced Starting Over, a fresh solo album Stapleton released in November. As their time wrapped, Campbell invited Stapleton to sing harmonies and eventually a verse of “Pistol Packin’ Mama.” A dense, dusty pipe organ contributes to the warm, cluttered sound of the track.
Wreckless Abandon alternates between swift currents and lower tides. A few of the tracks limp along, such as “I Still Love You” or even “Irish Girl.” After the relentless effort of “Boogie,” the album takes a slower turn with “Don’t Wait,” which dives into the murky ballad “Anna Lee.” Faster tracks like “Aw Honey,” and especially “Loaded Gun,” even out the pace to keep the overall velocity high. No doubt another victim of COVID-19 is the band’s live presence. Campbell has written plenty of table-scratching, foot-stomping riffs and progressions here, and they would sound even more electric in a live setting, with his signature poofy hat adding another touch of realism.
Overall the album captures what has to be decades worth of ideas, riffs, and songs, carefully polished, demolished, and rebuilt by Campbell in his scant bursts of downtime. “Don’t Knock the Boogie,” “Loaded Gun,” and “Fuck That Guy” are instant favorites, while “Southern Boy” and “Piston Packin’ Mama” will become familiar tracks in due time, as well. Taking its title literally, the album is anything but, and Cryptic Rock is pleased to award 4 out of 5 stars to Wreckless Abandon.