Recordings: Reverberating off rock
By Bruce Westbrook
Houston Chronicle — Sunday, April 11, 1999
Tom Petty maintains high standards on satisfying ‘Echo’
Echo | Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers | Warner Bros.
Like Bruce Springsteen’s Tracks album last fall, this is galvanizing rock ‘n’ roll. But also like Tracks, it falls into a classic-rock pigeonhole and may get scant airplay or attention outside of devotees.
Wake up, America. While the hip go hopping along, rock is alive and well – just as it was when Springsteen and Petty unleashed inspired albums and tours during disco’s rein in the late ’70s.
Here, Petty and company are in rare form for their first studio effort since the 1996 soundtrack for She’s the One. This is no burned-out gang of geezers going through the motions, but a tight, professional band bolstered by Petty’s reliably strong material.
His 14 songs (along with one by guitarist Mike Campbell) are melodic, haunting and defiantly romantic, with immaculate production by Petty, Campbell and Rick Rubin.
Free Girl Now, getting some deserved airplay, is straight-ahead, hard-charging, energized rock glory in a rich Petty vein that stretches back to American Girl.
Also potent are such race-tempo, guitar-driven numbers as Accused of Love, I Don’t Wanna Fight and Won’t Last Long. Petty mixes in soulful balladry via Lonesome Sundown, the lovely title tune and Swingin’.
The last is the most beautifully played song of the set, from Campbell’s jangly guitars and Benmont Tench’s elegant keyboards to Petty’s emotional vocals and fevered harmonica playing.
Like many albums in this age of CDs, Echo runs long. It would have worked better with a lean 12 songs, instead of this hour-plus marathon.
Consider the padding as bonus tracks or B-sides. Then program your CD player for great rock ‘n’ roll from a band that has always delivered through pop’s shifting tides.