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Review by Bill Provick
Ottawa Citizen — Friday, May 15, 1981
TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS — Hard Promises (Backstreet BSR-5160):
No doubt about it, this is a great album.
Hard on the heels of Petty’s breakthrough release, Damn the Torpedoes, this outing should solidify Petty’s position as an established musical force.
Hard Promises shines with promises being kept and potential being realized.
Aside from the fact he writes good rock songs, Petty’s chief asset is that he doesn’t sound like a professional singer. It’s a fascinating, facile voice with a quavering vulnerability that adds compelling emotional textures to Petty’s bright but bittersweet sound.
With the most-able Heartbreakers, Petty has fashioned a distinctive sound strong enough to acknowledge allegiance to some top pop-rock influences without suffering in comparison.
There’s Beatlesque flavorings to Nightwatchman, a Dylanesque Highway 61 feeling to Criminal Mind and an evocatie Rolling Stones plaintiveness (along the lines of Coming Down Again) in You Could Still Change Your Mind. And yet these well-crafted touches are all bonuses rather than crutches for Petty carries them off beautifully without dampening his own provocative presence.
There’s another rewarding influence, that of the Byrds. Petty and the Heartbreakers have patented a bell-like guitar sound — sometimes it jingle jangles and other times it peels and tolls. Both are used to great affect in The Waiting.
Promises is much more cohesive and consistent than Torpedoes. With slightly less raw surface excitement, it is much more rewarding with Petty and the boys coming off quite poised as they mix numerous imaginative touches with a basic pop-simple catchiness.
Every cut is dandy but two particular highlights are Kings Road, a great little Petty rocker, and Insider, a country-flavored evocative ballad featuring a superb duet with Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame.