Genre: Pop Rock
Label: BMG
Size: 12"
Format: 33RPM,


Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs External Combustion LP

Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs

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Rock Group's Sophomore Album On Vinyl LP!
Led by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Guitarist Mike Campbell!
Featuring Tracks With Ian Hunter & Margo Price!

It's a classic rock & roll story: the chance encounter that becomes collaboration, then a band; the gathering of players and like-minded spirits that tightens and grows in songwriting, rehearsals and club dates; a debut album that finally arrives after all of the labor and waiting; the follow-up that beats a new set of odds and jumps ahead in vision and drive, proving the first record was no one-shot deal.

For Mike Campbell, External Combustion - the second album by his first band as a leader, the Dirty Knobs - is proof that lightning can strike twice. Campbell experienced all of the above and more with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - riding shotgun with his friend and captain as lead guitarist, co-producer and, at times, co-writer - when he met guitarist Jason Sinay at a session in Los Angeles in 2000. "I didn't like him at first because he had a green guitar and a mohawk," Campbell recalls with a laugh. "But when we started playing together, I realized he had good rhythm, good sound. And he worked really well with me."

"The first album was about the boogie," affirms co-producer George Drakoulias. But External Combustion "threw the net wider." Country firebird Margo Price sings backing vocals in "Cheap Talk", a bluesy march in smokey orchestration, and duets with Campbell in the country-soul ballad "State Of Mind", decked out with strings and brass in the frontier-symphony image of the Band. That's the distinctive glam-Dylan bite of Mott the Hoople singer Ian Hunter in the second verse of "Dirty Job", while Heartbreakers pianist Benmont Tench brings the Jerry Lee Lewis in "Lightning Boogie".

And in "It Is Written", Campbell conjures ghostly wisps of Bob Dylan-like harmonica in a topical urgency that turns into a reflection "about the devotion to one person," Campbell says - his wife Marcie. "It's a true story about coming out to California, her taking me in." But that's not a harmonica - it's a piano riff run backwards.

The Dirty Knobs made External Combustion in three weeks over the summer of 2021, "a few days at a time," Drakoulias says. "Everything was coming off the floor - whatever they were playing, whatever felt good." That speed and raw commitment comes right out of the starting gate in the garage-rock torpedo "Wicked Mind"; jumps to a Howlin' Wolf-style shuffle in "Brigitte Bardot"; and is there at the finish in "Electric Gypsy", a blaze of guitars in waltz time that Campbell began writing in the morning and showed to the band in the afternoon. The Knobs cut the song - named after one of Campbell's guitars, a gorgeous instrument with a mosaic finish in mother-of-pearl and abalone - the same day in one pass.

The Dirty Knobs have now been a band for nearly two decades - and played about 20 gigs, by drummer Matt Laug's count, mostly "in the cracks between Heartbreakers tours." But Drakoulias says it was at the early club shows that Campbell became "a real bandleader with the patter, telling stories, communicating. That motivated him to work on the singing - to dig down, take it seriously.

"Both he and Tom - being in a band was what they really loved," the producer adds. Campbell now has "guys he loves playing with. He's trying to find his own world, one that feels like him.

"And he's achieving that."

Campbell has wound up with a record that delivers a kick that's not unlike what the Heartbreakers did with Hypnotic Eye: it's handsomely crafted classic rock played with flair, wit, and precision, elements that make familiar tropes seem fresh.
-Stephen Thomas Erlewine,, 4/5 stars


  • Vinyl LP
  • RIYL: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Mudcrutch, The Black Crowes, The Avett Brothers, Marcus King Band, The Allman Betts Band


Side A:

  1. Wicked Mind
  2. Brigitte Bardot
  3. Cheap Talk
  4. External Combustion
  5. Dirty Job (feat. Ian Hunter)
  6. State Of Mind (feat. Margo Price)

Side B:

  1. Lightning Boogie
  2. Rat City
  3. In This Lifetime
  4. It Is Written
  5. Electric Gypsy

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