TOM PETTY | WILDFLOWERS (WARNER BROS.) | ★★★ ½
By Steve Halvonik
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — November 4, 1994
Middle age does some crazy things to rock ‘n’ roll singers.
It caused Bruce Springsteen to marry (twice), dump the E Street Band and descend into a Beverly Hills torpor from which he’s never artistically recovered.
Same for John Mellencamp (except the Beverly Hills part).
Middle age also has inspired some of our greatest songwriters to take stock of their lives and produce some of their finest records. Bob Dylan’s “Oh, Mercy” and Neil Young’s “Sleeps with Angels” are two examples. Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” is a third.
Petty’s first solo record, “Full Moon Fever,” was eminently entertaining and produced a slew of radio hits, but ultimately it left the listener asking, “So what?” It sounded like a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers record, without the Heartbreakers. If a solo record doesn’t offer something different, then what’s the point?
There are no such complaints about “Wildflowers,” Petty’s first solo record in five years and his first for Warner Brothers. On this collection of 15 songs, the fortysomething rocker ruminates about love, loneliness and the pressures of celebrity. OK, it’s not exactly like being homeless in the street, but it’s musically more compelling than Springsteen’s whine about 57 channels and nothing on.
with assistance from Rick Rubin, the studio wizard who produced Johnny Cash’s recent critically acclaimed record, Petty has given “Wildflowers” a musical diversity that’s usually lacking on most Heartbreakers records. Oh, there are some Byrds-inspired jangling guitars, but there’s a lot more too. The title cut is a sweet acoustic ballad; “Honey Bee” features a big blues-rock riff; and a pedal-steel guitar adds some country flavor to “House in the Woods.”
Petty gets assistance from Heartbreakers Mike Campbell on guitars and Benmont Trench on piano. And Ringo Starr makes a cameo on drums. But make no mistake: “Wildflowers” is strictly a one-man show. And what a bravura performance it is.