Thursday, November 1, 2018

Album Review: Tom Petty - An American Treasure

Tom Petty
An American Treasure
**and1/2 out of *****

For Tom Petty, an artist who is fairly well defined by his Greatest Hitsthe release of the sprawling box set collection An American Treasure, is a bit puzzling and unnecessary. The artist himself already released one back in 1995 titled Playback which managed to capture outtakes and alternate versions from his early years. He also combed through his complete touring history, releasing an excellent five disk deluxe Live Anthology in 2009.

Obviously box sets are for diehards and completist's, so his fans will eat this up, but do his late career outtakes and live offerings warrant this large of a collection? The answer is no and for those who are looking to get into the artist there are much easier ways to do so.

That all said the music collected here is up to Petty's high standards. Alternate versions of a few of his best known tracks, live offerings and early Mudcrutch all show the professionalism of the band,  and Petty as a consistent songwriter, but few truly elevate the artists career or for the alternate versions, replace the official releases. The tracks were selected by Petty's daughter Adria, wife Dana and long time Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench so the collections heart is in the right place.

It begins by going back to the beginning of course as the early outtake "Surrender" kicks off and screams southern Bruce Springsteen with it's shine and power. Some lesser loved tracks from his first album get a remastered treatment as "Rockin' Around (With You) and "The Wild One, Forever" ring loud and free while a live version of "Anything That's Rock and Roll" from Hollywood in 1977 pinpoints the era.

Petty's career was a bit blurry at times and selections like "Deliver Me", "Damage You Done", "The Best of Everything" are all fine/middle-of-the-road for the catchy songwriter while "Walkin' From The Fire", "Don't Treat Me Like A Stranger", "Gainseville" and "You Can Still Change Your Mind" are all dull and probably didn't need to be showcased at all.

Along those lines, for a crack whip live band the stagnate "A Woman In Love (It's Not Me)" doesn't do the touring players justice but on the flip side a live version of "Kings Road" from Hard Promises is a blistering rocker that crackles with energy. The more delicate "Alright for Now" and the outtake "Keep a Little Soul" both dynamically showcase the softer side of Petty while "The Apartment Song" demo with backing vocals from Stevie Nix is the best uncovered gem in the box. 

The collection is a chance to examine some of Petty's later day releases and unfortunately The Last DJ songs do not get better as "Have Love Will Travel" and especially "Money Becomes King" still feel out of touch from the rocker who made a career out of radio hits. Hypnotic Eye, Echo and Mojo tracks all show the professionalism still but again don't cause reevaluation of the just OK original releases. Petty's best album in the 2000's, Highway Companion only gets two tracks here, the highlight of the original record, "Down South" and a live version of "Saving Grace".

In Steve Hyden's piece on the box set he mentions that we view artists output differently after their death, evaluating their releases with yearning ears because we know their won't be much more new coming from them. Spot on, he also nailed our feelings of Petty exactly in his book Twilight Of The Gods: A Journey To The End of Classic Rock when he states:
"Tom Petty could always be counted on to be just good enough Tom did not have to prove it all night. He was fine knocking off at around 11 PM.”
An American Treasure convinces Hyden to reconsider that stance, even going so far as to say that the massive release is a good place for newbies. I feel that Petty's surprising passing is still raw in Hyden's ears and he is being too kind and I feel he got it completely correct in his book. Petty's American Treasure is not on par with other career spanning outtake and b-side collections from major artists like Tom Waits Orphans or Dylan's amazing Bootleg Series, and is superfluous.

There is a reason Petty's Greatest Hits is his best selling album by far, this is definitely not the case with most "classic" artists. His hits were dynamite, most albums were let downs and you really didn't need to dig too deep to get the best out of him and The Heartbreakers. Greatest Hits, Wild Flowers, The Traveling Wilburys and The Live Anthology would pretty much cover everything you really need from this no doubt American treasure.
Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video below:

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