Petty Country (A Country Music Celebration Of Tom Petty)

Various Artists
Petty Country (A Country Music Celebration Of Tom Petty)

It’s possible that Tom Petty was the last thing we could all agree on. Though his mid- to late-’70s come-up rode the wake of FM-radio-friendly post-punk New Wave and power pop, he had just enough of an anti-establishment bent to escape the scorn of punk purists. (See: his scorched-earth campaign against record labels’ price gouging circa 1981’s Hard Promises.) Yet by the end of the ’80s, he’d prematurely embraced an elder-statesman status that belied his years as the (by far) youngest Traveling Wilbury and eased into a late-career oldies-friendly jam-band kinda vibe with drawn-out sets performed on large Persian rugs. His music was a road-trip godsend: comfort at best, conflict avoidance at worst. All of which is to say that Petty Country, a comprehensive and heartfelt 20-track compilation of A-list country stars covering favourite Petty songs, makes absolute perfect sense, yet is revelatory nonetheless—not just in the way some of the genre’s most distinctive voices seem to find another gear in tribute, but in the way these songs sound like they were formative underpinnings of their own work to begin with, as modern mainstream country came to resemble nothing so much as ’80s mainstream rock. Ryan Hurd and Carly Pearce’s “Breakdown” sounds like a song either of them could have made, yet is wholly faithful to the Heartbreakers’ version; ditto Steve Earle’s tear through Full Moon Fever’s amiably sneering “Yer So Bad” and the playful Wynonna and Lainey Wilson duet on “Refugee.” Luke Combs keeps that “Fast Car” energy for another faithful cover from that era, “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” George Strait offers a live version of Wildflowers’ “You Wreck Me,” while Thomas Rhett gives the title track the quiet reverence it deserves. Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench bless Margo Price’s “Ways to Be Wicked” and Rhiannon Giddens’ “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” respectively. Justin Moore’s “Here Comes My Girl” preserves the original’s musical arrangement but leans on the Southern accent for the spoken-sung verses. Tom Petty and most of the Heartbreakers were from Florida but had never really identified as a Southern band, an ambivalence Petty wrestled with and ultimately corrected for on 1985’s Southern Accents. While no one tackles that album’s feisty opener “Rebels” here, the compilation’s crown jewel is Dolly Parton’s majestic take on the title track. It feels less like Dolly covering Tom Petty than a Dolly Parton song all along that just happened to have been first conjured by Tom Petty. For all the accolades and milestones Petty racked up over a decades-long, yet still abruptly shortened, career, it’s hard to imagine anything thrilling him more.

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