The Petty Archives

By Michael D. Clark
Houston Chronicle - Sunday, August 13, 2006

"Highway Companion" | Tom Petty | American | ★★★
At 55 years old and in the midst of the longest hit-single drought of his three-decade career, Tom Petty is taking no chances with weak links on his new solo album "Highway Companion." Opener "Saving Grace" is full of energy, combining a ZZ Top guitar lick with a hand-clap beat that give the song a first-take jam-session feel.

The album was produced by Petty and his dream team: Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell and ELO frontman Jeff Lynne. Lynne plays guitar and autoharp on "Ankle Deep," a song that, not surprisingly, flirts with the same rock and folk-country sound that Petty and Lynne made as members of the Traveling Wilburys. Campbell plays lead guitar and vibraphone on the haunting "The Golden Rose," a song that forces Petty to show off his underrated melodicism.

More than ever before Petty's naked and urgent vocal prowess takes precedent over his rural Florida cool.

Most of "Highway Companion" showcases a forward-looking Petty. It's the right direction for a veteran artist looking to avoid the nostalgia circuit.