Gift Guide: Tom Petty
Wildflowers & All the Rest (Warner Records)
"It's Good to Be King," especially if you're not wearing anything.
Like 2010 Bruce Springsteen box set The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story, which expanded the Boss' diamond-hard masterwork into six discs of era outtakes, the 5-CD Wildflowers & All the Rest essentially restores the King's second solo album into the double LP of original intent. And then some. Seventy tracks include the 1994 album, a 10-track second disc of songs left off, Petty's demos, alternate takes, and a worth-the-price-of-admission live CD of unreleased performances. Wildflowers now becomes its own franchise.
Cavalcade of hummable choruses ("You Don't Know How It Feels," "Time to Move On," "You Wreck Me"), the Rick Rubin spliff produced its author's most distinctly Southern ramble since the sublimely broken Southern Accents in 1985 behind a hard and flat blues tempo rising from the Delta with some harmonica to give it hick. Glowering lumber, "Honey Bee" resounds swampy, while "It's Good to Be King" wafts a stony Malibu haze emphasizing the first half of the designation Southern California.
Even so, the original hour-plus Wildflowers ran at least 13 minutes too long ("House in the Woods"), so the All the Rest disc spins as exciting as its title, mostly balladic with murmured vocals. Obvious gem "California" rings distinctly Wildflowers, faintly recalling "Spike" off Southern Accents, and "Harry Green" sounds like an outtake from Johnny Cash's end run with Rubin. The home recordings volume also mostly files under All the Rest.
At 70 minutes, "Alternate Versions (Finding Wildflowers)" blooms the revelation here, then. Because many of these songs became Petty standards, the alternate versions throw off their own sparks, like the pinging guitars between new back-to-back twofer "Cabin Down Below" and "Crawling Back to You." And BOOM, box highlight "Drivin' Down to Georgia" unleashes a fully armed rocker clacking down the tracks behind Benmont Tench's Southern Magnolia keys – written for Into the Great Wide Open, but sounding composed for Southern Accents and cut for You're Gonna Get It – that also receives a star close-up on the live cull.
"Well I'm goin' down to Georgia/ Drivin' all the way/ Cross country for no reason/ I woke up, I couldn't stay/ I'm travelin' in an old car/ Made in the USA/ Hear that engine knockin'?/ We've both seen better days."