The Petty Archives

Petty aging graciously
By Darryl Sterdan
CANOE - July 28, 2006

Tom Petty | Highway Companion | (American/Warner) | ★★★½
Didja notice how gracious Tom Petty was after everyone pointed out The Red Hot Chili Peppers' Dani California was pretty much his 1993 hit Mary Jane's Last Dance with new lyrics? Wonder why?

Well, maybe it has something to do with the fact that his latest solo album Highway Companion doesn't exactly reinvent the roots-rock wheel.

In fact, if ole Tom were gonna get petty with the Peps, he might have to turn around and send muffin baskets to ZZ Top, John Lee Hooker, Neil Young, Joe Walsh, Dire Straits and a few others.

Because if you put your mind to it, you can hear traces of all of them in these dozen tracks, from the hard-driving La Grange Texas boogie of Saving Grace and the Life's Been Good break in Turn This Car Around to the Walk of Life rockabilly of Big Weekend to the lazy Heart of Gold folk-rock in Night Driver.

Save your e-mail -- we're not accusing Petty of pilferage; we're just pointing out you can always hear influences in any artist's work.

When you get past that, though, what you mostly hear in his third Heartbreakers-free disc is Tom lightening up and taking it down a peg.

The notoriously grumpy 55-year-old singer-songwriter strikes a laid-back pose on most of these rootsy tunes, working his acoustic guitar on 44 minutes of country and folk-rock strummers about outrunning your past, starting over at Square 1 and moving forward -- "If you don't run, you rust," is how he puts it.

Longtime foil Mike Campbell and producer Jeff Lynne flesh out his earthy one-man-band show, but don't get in the way of the man or his message.

And even if it isn't groundbreaking, it is the sound of a great American songwriter aging graciously.

Long may he run.