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Petty’s Country Roads
By Randy Lewis
The Washington Express — Monday, July 24, 2006
Tom Petty takes a slow, introspective tour of the South
Taking on the role of traveling buddy for his third solo venture, “Highway Companion” (American Recordings), Tom Petty, sans Heartbreakers, clearly is more interested in the journey than the destination.
In the album’s dozen songs, on which he plays most of the instruments, he cruises slowly down the back roads of what most often feels like the South of his youth, making this a journey of considerable self-assessment. It’s also a more writerly exercise than typical of his concise and straightforward Heartbreakers hits. In “Down South,” he sings about pretending to be Samuel Clemens to impress the girls, but more often than not be taps the melancholy reflection of a Reynolds Price.
He touches on themes of aging, going home, making amends, giving and receiving forgiveness. Those subjects tend to be thorny and complex, and his lyrics are oblique, snatching imagery and memories at will.
The result resembles impressionistic tone poems rather than the sing-along choruses with which the musician first made his mark three decades ago. His classic-rock references are woven into the musical fabric: hints of Bob Dylan, the Kinks, Neil Young and John Lennon.
As a guided tour of Petty’s autobiographical American South, “Highway Companion” represents musically time spent cogitating next to a gurgling brook in a hidden meadow rather than standing in awe in front of the Niagra Falls. It’s a less spectacular vista, but one with the potential for more deeply felt rewards for the right traveler.