The Petty Archives

By Len Righi
The Morning Call - July 29, 2006

On "Highway Companion," Tom Petty rides shotgun with … himself. Compared to his muscular work with the Heartbreakers, the veteran rocker's third 1solo disc is muted and sparsely produced (by longtime collaborator Jeff Lynne), even with contributions from Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell. But "Highway Companion" goes deeper than most Heartbreakers albums; Petty makes it personal, especially on the first four tracks, which achieve an almost poetic force as he sings about the price of clearing his slate ("Square One"), moving on alone ("Saving Grace") and knowing the the past has only a limited value in facing the future ("Down South"). While the disc may not cover any real new ground musically (except perhaps for a touch of ZZ Top boogie), it is a satisfying accumulation of the influences -- Bob Dylan, the Byrds and Neil Young in particular -- and trademarks that have made Petty and the Heartbreakers a force for 30 years. (And "Ankle Deep" is a knowing nod to The Traveling Wilburys.) Given the humorless, petulant and not very original preaching of 2002's "The Last DJ," "Highway Companion" is a beguiling ride. Hopefully, some of it will turn up on this summer's Heartbreakers tour, which Petty says will be his last with the band.