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Spins: Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs • External Combustion

| March 29, 2022

Mike Campbell and the Dirty Knobs

External Combustion


Mike Campbell wrote piles of great rock ‘n’ roll and jangle-pop songs during a 40-year career as lead guitarist for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (and Mudcrutch), but waited until the untimely 2017 loss of his co-captain before releasing his own album. Campbell even sublimated his own ego to his lesser-known but skillful bandmates by releasing 2020’s Wreckless Abandon under the group’s name. It was a high-octane treat for roots-rock fans, but the album and tour were scuttled by the pandemic. An April 2020 date scheduled for Park West was among the early casualties of lockdown. Two years later, the Dirty Knobs are set to make good on that booking with another album’s worth of material under their belts. With External Combustion, the persistent and affable Campbell takes another crack–and this time he takes top billing. This winning roots-rock set offers more proof of Campbell’s acumen as a pop songwriter and stylish yet tasteful player, as worthy of mainstream adulation as an American musical treasure as Keith Richards is from the other side of the pond.

Opening cut “Wicked Mind” is a raver that will remind listeners of who it was that wrote the riff for “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” with shimmering acoustic counterpoint reminiscent of Campbell’s production alongside Jeff Lynne. Campbell’s Florida drawl as vocalist will be familiar to Petty fans, too. Campbell’s slide guitar colors drummer Matt “Swampfox” Laug’s hot blues shuffle during the raucous “Brigitte Bardot.” Mott the Hoople frontman Ian Hunter joins riff-rocker “Dirty Job.” Campbell’s bandmate in the Heartbreakers and Mudcrutch Benmont Tench plays lively saloon-style piano on “Lightning Boogie.” Nashville fixture Margot Price and southern soul horns are featured in the Band-styled ballad “State of Mind.” Dylanesque wordplay and the Bakersfield country sound echo through “It Is Written” with its expression of a lifetime’s worth of gratitude to Campbell’s wife Marcie. Album closer and twanging waltz “Electric Gypsy” benefits from the intuitive interplay of Campbell’s band of seasoned underdogs. Ace guitarist Jason “Ape” Sinay and bedrock bassist Lance “Crawdaddy” Morrison deserve more ink as individual players and contributors alongside “Gator” Campbell than they’re getting here. The songs sound is captured with bristling live-on-the-floor performances that will translate well to the Dirty Knobs concert experience.

External Combustion is rollicking, joyous, and fun. (

Mike Campbell and the Dirty Knobs perform on April 2 at Park West.

– Jeff Elbel

Rating: 7 of a possible 10


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Category: Featured, Spins, Weekly

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