* * * * (four stars out of five)
Can you say “Treasure Trove?” This box set fits the bill – a career-spanning retrospective from one of rock’s steadiest of Eddies, Tom Petty, and his stalwart band, the ever-reliable Heartbreakers. I purchased the working man’s four disc edition (a real bargain on Amazon)
– the deluxe edition carries a fifth disc of music, a Blu-ray disc, two DVDs, a vinyl LP, a big booklet, and three hot little groupies (okay, I’m kidding about the groupies, but one can dream).
The four discs in the standard set offer at least one tune from every Petty studio disc (with and without the Heartbreakers), with the exception of the sadly (and again) overlooked “Echo” LP. (The fifth disc in the deluxe edition does include Billy The Kid from “Echo” – so if you’ve got the dough, and you’re a completist, go for it.)
A couple of things really struck me while listening to this box set. First and foremost is Petty’s consistency – the tracks are culled from a 28-year span of concerts, yet you feel like you’re listening to one long (and great) rock and roll show. They aren’t performed in chronological order – instead they’re sequenced just right, with a healthy dose of covers thrown in (more on that later).
The second thing that really hit me was the magnitude of Benmont Tench’s contribution to the sound of the Heartbreakers – his keyboards pop up in the mixes everywhere. Sure the keys are there on the studio albums, but they’re easy to overlook when you’ve got Petty and Mike Campbell leading the charge with those glimmering guitars of theirs. You really get a sense of how important Tench is to the band when listening to them live. For proof positive, check out the extended piano jam on disc 3’s Melinda – great, great stuff.
As for the music, all the big hits are here, except for Don’t Come Around Here No More, which is relegated to the rich man’s disc 5, and Into The Great Wide Open, which is relegated to the great wide open, I guess. The warhorses (Breakdown, Refugee, Here Comes My Girl, American Girl, The Waiting, Free Fallin’, etc. etc.) sound vibrant and fresh, and the covers are inspired and all over the place. Petty mixes in the blues (I’m A Man, I Just Want To Make Love To You, Diddy Wah Diddy), Memphis soul (Green Onions), British invasion (Any Way You Want It), classic rock (Mystic Eyes, Oh Well, Friend Of The Devil), and even a cool movie theme (Goldfinger). It’s all rendered by a top notch band in peak form. What’s not to like?
With any career-spanning compilation, there are always personal favorites that are missing. I’ve always been partial to the absent Listen To Her Heart, Insider, Rebels, King’s Highway, and Free Girl Now, to name but a few. But why quibble? Let’s just be thankful that we’ve been blessed with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Load these four discs into your car player and keep on drivin’ – straight into darkness.