The Dirty Knobs — External Combustion
Legendary guitar player Mike Campbell, while seemingly inseparable from Tom Petty for over four decades, has always shown independence and musical curiosity which has resulted in some remarkable projects. He’s co-written some truly excellent songs, most notably Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer.” He toured with the 2018-2019 incarnation of Fleetwood Mac. And, for two decades now, he’s been the head of his own band, which loosely formed when he and fellow guitarist Jason Sinay jammed together and liked what they heard. This week The Dirty Knobs release their second album, External Combustion, and they will finally venture out of Southern California for their first national tour, which could end up being the best guitar rock night you’ll have all year.
As with 2020’s Wreckless Abandon, Campbell and Sinay are joined by bass player Lance Morrison and drummer Matt Laug. However, while that record hinged largely on the band’s LA influences, External Combustion hearkens back to Campbell’s formative Florida days. The lead track, “Wicked Mind,” actually lands somewhere in the middle. The fast-paced jam features some acoustic strumming and references a “sinner with a rebel soul” but also sports a machine-gun solo that would make OC boy Mike Ness smile. “Brigitte Bardot,” though, slinks all the way South with an old-school country riff that crosses the Tennessee Two with some wicked slide work, climaxing in a trademark Campbell guitar outro.
When it comes to guest appearances, the Knobs go for fit over flash, and the results are the best moments on External Combustion. Margo Price shows up on two tracks, providing ghostly background vocals on the eerie “Cheap Talk” before busting out at the end to provide a worthy counter-punch to another great outro solo. Price returns on “State of MInd” to trade verses with Campbell on the sad love song – “You left an empty space in my life/And now I can’t find my place.” Ian Hunter pops up in “Dirty Job” to lend his wonderfully scarred voice and piano riffs to this old-school churner about the work that gets done in the shadows. And fellow Heartbreaker Benmont Tench brings his piano to the barroom stomper “Lightning Boogie.” There are precious few reliably good things in this world, but Benmont is most certainly one of them.
The Southern rock influences, though, are what leave the deepest mark on External Combustion. “Lightning Boogie” features a good, swampy slide solo to balance out Benmont’s barrel roll. “Cheap Talk” is all kinds of Southern gothic, and Campbell’s channeling of Petty’s vocal twang only adds to the spook factor. Later on, in “It Is Written,” the former Heartbreaker deals most directly with the loss of his friend while also celebrating the people that life has given him – “You were born in California/I was born in FLA/I went out there/With a rock and roll band/Yeah, lookin’ for somewhere else to play.” And the most Southern of moments wraps the album, with Campbell letting us know he’ll always be that unrepentant road warrior. “Electric Gypsy” gives us bluesy riffs, a big solo, and reason to hit the road ourselves in search of the next great rock show.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Electric Gypsy” – Big, loud and fun. Just what a rock song should be.
External Combustion was produced by George Drakoulias and Mike Campbell and recorded, engineered and mixed by Martin Pradler. All songs were written by Campbell. Additional musicians on the album include Drakoulias (vocals, percussion), Margo Price (vocals), Ian Hunter (vocals, piano), Benmont Tench (piano), Patrick Warren (string and horn arrangements), Daphne Chen (violin), Charlie Bisharat (violin), Leah Katz (viola), Giovanna Moraga Clayton (cello), Gabriel Johnson (trumpet), Katisse Buckingham (saxophones) and Erm Navarro (trombone).
Order External Combustion (out March 4) here: https://thedirtyknobs.lnk.to/ExternalCombustion
Check out tour dates here: https://www.thedirtyknobs.com/#tour