Shit, Tom Petty? Of all the great American icons of the past 50 years, he always was the most underappreciated. Unlike Bruce Springsteen – a blue-collar ubermensch who demands you work as hard watching him as he does performing – Petty made everything look so damn easy. Springsteen is Superman leaping between buildings. Tom was the guy in the crowd wondering why he didn’t just take a cab.
But the Heartbreaker-in-chief’s influence spread just as wide as Bruce’s, maybe even wider. You can hear echoes of his songwriting approach – brilliant simplicity elevated to an art form – in pretty much every American rock band of the past 40 years, even if very few ever managed to replicate his ornery don’t-give-a-fuckness. He was a one-of-a-kind everyman.
You can trace a line from Petty to Tyler Bryant, even if it’s not necessarily a straight one. Bryant, a 26-year-old from Nowheresville, Texas via Nashville, Tennessee, fits squarely in the ‘no-nonsense heartland rocker’ bracket. He’s got the black leather jacket, the fuck-you sneer in his voice. Hell, he’s even got the Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers T-shirt.
That’s not to say Bryant and his band The Shakedown sound like the Heartbreakers – they don’t, not by a long stretch. Where Petty drank straight from rock’n’roll’s bottomless well, Bryant grew up playing the blues in bars and clubs when he should have been studying maths and geography. That musical schooling might have been swapped for a more straightforward modern rock approach, but there are some lessons you just don’t forget.
But on the Shakedown’s self-titled second album there’s a hell of lot of shared ground too. It’s most obvious in the directness of its 10 compact, fuss-free tracks. Opener Heartland is low-slung, grinding rock’n’roll that suddenly opens out into a burst of sparkling melody that chimes like it’s 1979 all over again. East Target has the kind of casual swagger that offsets its relentless central riff. There’s an absolute lack off showiness to it, it’s there on a plate for you to take if you want it or leave it if you don’t.
The band cast their net wide, reflecting Bryant’s own ricocheting journey from there to here. The menacing Jealous Me, brilliantly, sounds like no one so much as the Arctic Monkeys twanging their way around the southern states of the USA in the back of a pick-up truck. Don’t Mind The Blood is an electric-glam stomper that chugs along with the unassailable confidence of a band who know they’ve nailed it.
The singer’s got the perfect everyman voice – not too hot, not too cold, not too tricksy. But he’s got enough of a catch in his throat to stamp his individuality on the rebel-without-a-care romp Backfire and Weak And Weeping, the latter a tale of woe set to a blazing boogie soundtrack.
Thankfully, Bryant has largely jettisoned his teen blues prodigy baggage. The only time those tendencies come to the surface is on the rootsy Ramblin’ Bones, a song that starts out on a front porch and ends up in ‘Memphis, three a.m.’ It very nearly descends into cliché territory, but is thrown a lifeline by the quivering gothic atmosphere conjured up by the chorus.
Nor does he overdo the guitar heroics, which is fairly impressive for someone who jammed with Jeff Beck and BB King when he was still in his teens. His name might head things up, but this is most definitely a band effort (one that, incidentally, also shares Aerosmith DNA in the shape of guitarist Graham ‘Son of Brad’ Whitford).
Missteps are few. The only two-legged dog is Aftershock, the kind of tedious, riff-heavy dirge that every band feels obliged to churn out if only to say, yeah, we’ve heard Black Sabbath too. Much better are the songs that sandwich it – Magnetic Field is ominous and trippy, blinking in the sunlight, while the stark Into The Black ladles on the emotion without ever becoming a power ballad.
It sounds like it’s been a drag getting to this point – the band had their last album rejected entirely by their old record label – but it sounds like the bad times have only fired them up. Of course, Tyler Bryant &The Shakedown aren’t the new Tom PettyAnd The Heartbreakers, not even close. But they’re doing a damn fine job of keeping that spirit alive. You could say Petty would be proud. But in truth he probably wouldn’t give a shit.