Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Happy 20th Anniversary Wildflowers

There are certain albums that stick with you for reasons...a memory of a particular place, time, person. A spark of a better/worse moment in life. A reminder of that crazy person you once were. Then there are albums that stay with you that aren't particularly tied to you in any concrete form function or rationality, quite simply you just like the music.  

Wildflowers is that last kind of album for me and this November the album celebrates its 20th anniversary. Lets chat about it...

I was primarily listening to my local hardcore metal scene and hiphop in the fall of 94 and for some reason I decided to grab this disk at the local Strawberries in Clifton Park, NY. I am not really sure why, perhaps I had already got the greatest hits disk in 93 but I can't guarantee the Hits came before the Wildflowers. I can tell you which gets listened to more often.

Wildflowers has stayed in constant rotation, whether it has been a CD player, car stereo, old school mp3 device or iPhone that album has traveled with me from dorm rooms to current abode. This disk isn't my favorite of all-time, its songs are solid if non truly spectacular but the overall vibe is just incredibly spot on. Perhaps Rick Rubin and his team deserve a lot of the credit for this.
The album was recorded at Sound City and it was the first time Rubin and Petty worked together. This interview sheds some interesting light into the recording process and some tech specs surrounding the sessions. The ambiance on that record is palpable there is an ease, loose feel yet something undeniably important under the surface of things. Here is a cool find from the Tom Petty newsletter from Feb 95 regarding the recording of it: 
With the release of his second solo album, Wildflowers, Tom Petty made his Warner Bros. debut. Produced by Rick Rubin, together with Tom and Heartbreaker Mike Campbell, it was definitely worth waiting for!
Wildflowers offers 15 new songs, 13 written solely by Tom, and 2 co-written by Tom and Mike. Joining Tom on the album are Heartbreakers Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench and Howie Epstein. Ringo Starr drums on "To Find A Friend," and Carl Wilson sings backing vocals on "Honeybee." Other guest artists include Steve Ferrrone (drums), Lenny Castro (percussion), and Phil Jones (percussion). Several songs feature orchestral arrangements by Michael Kamen.
Tom has described Wildflowers as using, "no modern conviniences, it's all played by hand … which is really what I prefer … very guitar-based, lots of textures." "There's a lot of different sounds, but they're all organic sounds. There are no synthesizers on the record, no digital anything, no sampling, no computers."
That natural vibe can be felt through the speakers. The disk is always a good one when it comes up in conversation. It is not for everyone but some close friends became that way after one discussion regarding this release. It is never a standout, but always refreshing. I caught Tom on the Dogs With Wings tour up in SPAC in 95 and while it was a good show, it wasn't great or even the best of his I have seen. The songs were still fresh then and I think needed to age a bit.

Years later when I found out songs from Echo like "Walls" and the outtake "Girl On LSD" were supposed to be on the album it really lead me to believe this was Tom at his high point musically and song writing wise. While none were as pop-radio friendly as "Into The Great Wide Open" all were textured and nuanced while feeling breezy...a tough skill to demonstrate.     
As far as reviews of the disk, one of our favorite chronicler of pop music history Christgau took a steamy dump on the disk, but in reading back through all of his reviews on Petty it was clear he has never liked his sound or style. Other critics seem mixed on it placing it good but not great. If I was reviewing disks at the time I wonder how I would have reacted?

As it stands it is still the one Petty record I constantly reach for, I am surprised to learn that Rolling Stone ranked it 12th on its Greatest Albums of The 90's list. Also a shock is that there is talk of a 20th anniversary disk coming out this year, that will be a joy and we WILL review that one. I have to confess though one of the reasons for this post was I thought the disk was underrated, perhaps I have been mistaken. Either way, quite simply I just like the music

Enough chatter however, how about a few tunes? Buy the album here for only 5 bucks (or wait for the 20th anniversary release) and peep some video below:    

"You Don't Know How It Feels" and the cymbals never do get hit....

Title Track:

"You Wreck Me" the best (only?) rocker on the disk

"Honey Bee" Live on SNL with Dave Grohl on drums (just audio)

The folksie "Time To Move On"

and the dreamy 'Don't Fade On Me"

Lets end as we should via "Wake Up Time" the amazing disk closer...gorgeous and a track that makes you want to start the whole disk over again....

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