TOM PETTY, Wildflowers & All the Rest (2020, Warner Records)
- Tom Petty, Vocals and Guitars
- Mike Campbell: Guitars, Bass
- Benmont Tench, Keyboards
- Steve Ferrone, Drums
- Rick Rubin, Producer
TRACK LISTING (main album):
- You Don’t Know How it Feels
- Time to Move On
- You Wreck Me
- It’s Good to Be King
- Only a Broken Heart
- Honey Bee
- Don’t Fade on Me
- Hard on Me
- Cabin Down Below
- To Find a Friend
- A Higher Place
- House in the Woods
- Crawling Back to You
- Wake Up Time
Never underestimate the value of simplicity.
There’s a huge difference between simplicity and simplistic, and Tom Petty knew how to stay on the right side of that particular line. The structure of Petty’s songs is often relatively simple, making for fine arena rockers custom made for singalongs in concert. There’s not much to think about.
Attempts to play some of Petty’s greatest hits often leave musicians used to more complicated compositions asking, “That’s it?” That’s all there is to it?” The quick answer is yes. And no.
Tom Petty’s gift was to give simplicity multiple layers of depth. There is MUCH more happening than meets the eye, or ear as the case may be. HIs 1994 solo album Wildflowers is a prime example. With his backing band The Heartbreakers, Petty could create big, rock anthems made for larger venues. As a solo artist (who just happens to bring a Heartbreaker or two along for the ride), he created more intimate tunes better suited for casual settings or perhaps a small studio featuring the band playing to one another in a small circle.
This point is driven home by way of this deluxe re-issue, which now includes not only the remastered original recording, but ten additional songs intended to go toward a double album, 15 demos Petty recorded at home, and a live disc that proves the intimate tunes did, in fact, work in a larger setting. In a nutshell, Petty fans have an opportunity to hear an album grow before their very ears.
Wildflowers’s songs have a different feel than Petty’s previous solo works, most likely due to the presence of producer Rick Rubin. Petty’s previous works were produced by Jeff Lynne. In the set’s extensive liner notes, Rubin notes that Petty was eager to impress the producer, and therefore dug even deeper than usual for songs and material. Rubin, after all has a knack for bringing more out of musicians than they may have thought possible, whether it’s Petty, Johnny Cash, or Metallica.
In Petty’s case, the Beatle-esque sheen (Lynne’s trademark) has been replaced by a tighter, open, raw approach. The sound is very much “in the room,” with the band taking a largely minimalist approach in support of their leader. Petty once referred to his drummer, Steve Ferrone, as his “steam locomotive,” a perfectly apt description. Ferrone just chugs away behind Petty, most often right on top of the beat. Mike Campbell’s guitar runs are far from showy, giving them plenty of room to breathe. The keyboards of Benmont Trent find the sweet spots between the other voices, making for just the right accompaniment.
And there is no questioning Petty’s skills as a songwriter. He displays wit, earnestness, and a forlorn sense of self throughout the album’s tracks. The additional tracks that make up All the Rest only serve to drive this point home. There must have been some reason Petty’s label wanted to keep Wallflowers a single disc set. Frankly, that was probably the wrong call.
Normally, deluxe sets like this one (also available on vinyl and in substantially expanded form) are geared toward hardcore fans and completists. But even casual fans will be able to find a lot of value in this expanded set. If anything, it serves as a brilliant reminder of what we are missing now that Tom Petty is no longer with us.
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