Tom Petty’s first album for his new label was a solo album, but in name only; Wildflowers features Mike Campbell on every track and Benmont Tench on most of them, with future Heartbreaker Steve Ferrone behind the kit in one hell of an audition. (Howie Epstein shows up here and there too. And so does Ringo!) Working with Rick Rubin suited Petty well, with more natural production that fit his simple style better than the boomy Jeff Lynne sound. Even using only three or four chords, he came up with some great new songs.
When we say great, we’re not kidding. “You Wreck Me” is a fun rocker. “It’s Good To Be King” does Mel Brooks proud. “Honey Bee” rides a basic riff down the white line. “Don’t Fade On Me” is a satisfying trip to the swamp. And if he’d only ever written the gorgeous “Wake Up Time” and nothing else in his long career, he could still be proud.
And on top of that, there are ten other songs to keep you busy. “You Don’t Know How It Feels” follows a robotic drum beat through harmonica breaks and a notorious reference to a joint that is still censored on corporate radio. “Only A Broken Heart” is simple and perfect. “Cabin Down Below” and the horn-flavored “House In The Woods” (which hearkens back to George Harrison’s “Long, Long, Long” via Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands”) make for excellent variety, while “Crawling Back To You” sounds something of a sequel to Springsteen’s “Spirit In The Night”. Other tracks sound like other songs we’ve heard before, but we haven’t placed them yet; hence their success.
While it has more of a produced studio vibe than Full Moon Fever—which was largely concocted in a garage—Wildflowers has a warm, comfortable feel throughout that’s not at all dated, unlike his first so-called solo album. Of course, he toured behind the album with the Heartbreakers. After all, who else could do these songs justice?
Tom Petty Wildflowers (1994)—4