Monday, October 1, 2018


As Benmont Tench explains in the liner notes to this four CD collection, there was much more to Petty than Free Fallin' and Refugee and Runnin' Down A Dream, and his friends and family want the world to hear it. Compiled by Petty's longtime bandmates Mike Campbell and Tench, plus his daughter and wife, the set is all about love. I'm not being trite about that, the liner notes and track-by-track comments make that perfectly clear. The goal is to allow fans to find new sides to Petty, and to focus on exceptional music that has perhaps been glossed over by most in favour of the hits.

To do that, the group (essentially his family) has chosen tracks from several different sources. Of major note is the inclusion of a handful of previously unreleased tracks, completed songs that for minor reasons were left off albums. Without a doubt, each of these is of the high quality expected of Petty albums. There are no throw-aways and certainly no duds. That includes the powerful opener Surrender, a long-time live favourite first recorded in 1976, that was used to open the group's early concerts. Again quoting Tench about why it never made an album, "I don't know what we were thinking." More such cuts follow, including an unissued single from the pre-Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch, and songs from sessions for albums such as Long After Dark, Echo and Hypnotic Eye. There's about an album's worth of such material here, and if that alone had been released, it would be considered a major addition to Petty's legacy.

There are plenty of new live tracks included, again from all over his career. These have been chosen for their intensity, emotion, and for radically different arrangements. One of the very first live versions of Listen To Her Heart comes from a radio station, small audience recording, and it's a treat to hear the group still having to fight to prove themselves. I Won't Back Down is offered in an acoustic stage version, highlighting the harmonies. Insider, from 2006, features guest vocals from Stevie Nicks, who had joined the tour. There are lots of live Petty albums, EP's and tracks out there already, but these different versions add a lot to appreciate his varied stage shows.

In addition to unused studio cuts, Petty and the group also tended to work through songs in more than one arrangement, finally settling on the one to make the final list. There are quite a few alternate versions, including the track Don't Fade One Me from Wildflowers, here presented with Mike Campbell doing a lot of fingerpicking throughout. Rebels, in an early version, has a bigger sound, more drums and a more rocking take. A string section on You're Gonna Get It is moved up in the mix on the version here, making it quite different in the Petty catalogue. And some wrongs have been righted from the '80's, as several cuts with added, dated effects like drum samples have been stripped off, returning the songs to the more organic band versions first cut.

Lastly, the compilers picked a bunch of album cuts from over the years to highlight, definitely not the well-known numbers, but examples of what they believe feature the very best qualities, especially focusing on Petty's songwriting. Yes, fans will own them already, but they really fit the flow, and remind us all of the ongoing excellence, especially from the later, lesser-heard records. Money Becomes King from 2002's The Last DJ is a great example of his storytelling, how he'd take a character and tell a wise tale, giving us a good look at his morals and true heart. While these songs have gone under the radar in his career, their excellence shines in this format.

There are plenty of more takes, live concerts, unreleased songs and even more angles to study still left over. I have the feeling it will never feel like scraping the bottom of the barrel, as Petty and his bandmates approached each song and each concert with great respect, for the art and for the tradition of rock 'n' roll bands. And the commitment to respect his music is obviously at the heart of this release. As Benmont Tench says in the notes, his heart is as broken as everyone else's.  It was one year ago today that Petty died, and it's still just as painful a realization. This helps me deal with that loss.

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