Certain Songs #1213: Mudcrutch – “Save Your Water”

Album: Mudcrutch 2
Year: 2016

Among the many cruel ironies surrounding Tom Petty’s death was that the last recordings he ever did was with the band with which he made his first recordings.

Of course, Mudcrutch was subsequently broken up by his record company in order to make him a star, which might have happened anyways, but definitely happened because he almost instantly snagged Mike Campbell & Benmont Tench from the wreckage and made them Heartbreakers.

So if nobody was exactly crying out for 2008’s debut album by the reconstituted Mudcrutch, it was at least an interesting novelty, a look at roads not taken by one of the great artists of the rock era. But it also meant that nobody was really really asking for more Mudcrutch, especially after two back-to-back (back-to-back at this level of fame and career meaning four years) Heartbreakers records.

Which is why Mudcrutch 2 is such a surprise: song for song probably the best Tom Petty album since Echo. Not only does it start off with a ringer: a remake of the Southern Accents b-side “Trailer,” it also features a fun Benmont Tench song, a strong entry by drummer Randall Marsh and the rarest of all things, a Mike Campbell lead vocal on “Victim of Circumstance.”

But what really mattered was that Mudcrutch 2 really seemed like it wasn’t tethered even the tiniest bit to the original Mudcrutch concept, and so it was just the latest batch of Tom Petty songs. And it was a good batch, highlighted by the ominously gorgeous “Hungry No More,” the guitar-driven “Dreams of Flying,” and my favorite, the Byrdsy “Save Your Water.”

Any one of these songs would have fit just fine on any Tom Petty album ever, but what gets me about “Save Your Water” is the backing harmonies that Benmont Tench and Tom Leadon stick on the chorus as the 12-string guitars tumble over each other.

And you know me better now
And you see I’m in the middle
And you don’t know why or how
But you sold me down your river
And I’m just plain old sandwiched in between
So save your water woman
I won’t drink out of your stream

See this is what sucks about Tom Petty’s death: 40 years after “American Girl,” Tom Petty was still writing songs in that same vein. Maybe some of the youthful enthusiasm was gone, but the professionalism that had replaced it hasn’t even come close to snuffing out the life from the music.

And in this case, how could it? Tom Petty didn’t have to do this. Every Heartbreakers or solo record was always going to carry some semblance of pressure & obligation — and Mojo was no doubt an attempt to take the piss out of that — but the looseness of Mudcrutch 2 also sparked something in his songwriting and performance that made it that much more enjoyable as his final album.

“Save Your Water”

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