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Southern accents don’t change Petty’s downtown rock
By Evelyn Erskine
Ottawa Citizen — April 4, 1985
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers | Southern Accents (MCA-5486)
On the jacket of Southern Accents, Tom Petty is pictured sitting on a bale of hay in the barn. But the album is not the turn from earthy downtown rock to southern boogie that the image implies.
The influence of the deep South is more thematic than it is musical. Rebels is a rock lament about the descendants of Dixie and It Ain’t Nothin’ To Me, goes into the heart of the bible belt via television where Jerry Falwell is preaching.
But Petty is an observer in all of this rather than a participant. The song’s chorus, “It might mean somethin’ to you/It ain’t nothin’ to me” seems to say more than Petty intends it too. The South Petty knows is Florida where he grew up.
Call and response vocals on some tracks lend a hint of gospel, but more dominant is the East Coast dance beat. It brings the music much closer to The Rolling Stones than to the Allman Brothers. In general, the southern music influence is vague.
It is clear, though, that Petty is hunting for some new musical ground. This is far removed from the straight-from-the-heart street rock he began with. It is not guitar-oriented, which might well be due to practical reasons resulting from an injury to his hand.
For whatever reason, the music here has a fuller found with back-up singers, horns, various acoustic string instruments and synthesizers. He uses the extra support sometimes at the expense of the honesty his earlier music had. At other times, songs are suffocated by overcrowded arrangements.
If Southern Accents as an attempt to tap down-home basics, then it was a good idea which doesn’t work very well. The biggest failing of the album is overproduction.