Highway Companion

Highway Companion

Tom Petty’s third and final solo album, Highway Companion is like the quiet clarity that settles in after a period of sadness and confusion. Former collaborator Jeff Lynne, who’d delivered numerous past Petty hits, returned once again for Highway Companion. But while Full Moon Fever and Into the Great Wide Open both leaned on a layered, big-studio sound, Lynne’s efforts on Highway Companion lend Petty’s songs an almost toylike simplicity. The arrangements are mostly acoustic, the lyrics neater and more folksy, and the open wounds of Wildflowers, Echo, and The Last DJ resolved into something more measured and straightforward. The America on display in Highway Companion here is one of postcards and folk art. There are brick houses and little bars (“Big Weekend”), rumpled seersuckers and dash-splattering mosquitoes (“Down South”), and long empty highways under a shining moon (“Night Driver”). You can almost hear the train whistle in the distance, or the ice cracking in the glass as the bartender pours your drink. As a result, Highway Companion is small, comforting, and somehow familiar-sounding. Still, like the clean blade forged in fire, you sense throughout that Petty’s calm is hard-earned. On “Square One,” he even says as much: “Square one, my slate is clear/Rest your head on me, my dear/It took a world of trouble, took a world of tears/It took a long time to get back here.”

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