For the uninitiated, while the late American rocker Tom Petty1994 album Wildflowers doesn’t have to be his best record – that’s usually reserved for Full moon fever or damn the torpedoes– It was his most personal, loved and loved among fans (it was ranked number 1 fan favorite in a 2013 Rolling Stone fan poll).
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Before his untimely death in 2017 from an accidental overdose at the age of 66, Petty had felt nostalgic. The musician had long dreamed of fully revealing the legendary and mostly unheard of Wildflowers record because the official version, released in 1994, contained 15 songs, but he had recorded enough material for a double recording. Ultimately, the record label stopped him from releasing such a long record, which would have been exorbitantly priced at the time (Petty was always memorably conscientious of his fans and fought vigorously to keep costs down for them, including prices for Concert tickets).
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In early 2020, Petty’s estate was published on request Wildflowers and everything else A double album of 25 songs plus a super deluxe 4 disc version for fans of home recordings, demos, live versions, alternative versions and more. Well coordinated “Tom Petty: You feel free somewhere“Comes on the heels of this new release, which comes from a newly discovered archive of a 16mm film in which Petty is at work Wildflowers.
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If the timing feels a little cynical, “Somewhere You Feel Free” isn’t just additional promotional material and padding for the new re-release, or at least its intentions seem very pure and born out of a love of music. The director is an experienced producer and filmmaker of musical documents Mary Wharton (the director of “Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President, ”And producer of dozens of musical documents from her time at VH1 and after) “Somewhere You Feel Free” is intimate, affectionate, and takes you into a personal statement from a reclusive musical icon who is usually too private to air its personal wash.
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The central problem with “Tom Petty: Somewhere where you feel free” is the lack of conflict. It’s not about making a difficult studio recording or about a war with a record label – as the recalcitrant, anti-authoritarian Petty was used to – it’s about half a time in which Petty felt creatively free, open and how the world felt like him many options provided.
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It was also a melancholy time for Petty as his first marriage was falling apart, unhealthy and whether he knew it or not he was preparing to say goodbye to it and hinting at it through the songs; almost like a mental preparation for yourself. There’s a wistful, reflective air in there Wildflowers, especially the title track. Even if the lyrics are not denominational by today’s standards, he was terrified by the level at which they exposed Petty’s emotions and his vulnerable state of mind.
Produced by a legendary versatile and intuitive producer Rick Rubin ((Beasties Boys, Hunters, Jay-Z, Kanye West, the founder of Def America)– who had never produced a Tom Petty album and had no connection with the singer, but loved his work – Wildflowers is not exactly a radical departure from Tom Petty’s previous work on the surface. But compared to the slick, radio-friendly pop of the Jeff Lynne-produced Full moon fever or the crowned skirt boast of Torpedoes or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers The debut album is certainly quieter, gentler, and more introspective, and it was a huge risk for Petty at the time.
Wildflowers also started out as a solo record (most of the Heartbreakers played on it at some point and he ended up calling it a “we” record), and his little conflict was the eventual sacking of the drummer Stan Lynch, whose more combative personality didn’t harmonize with the cool and relaxed atmosphere of Petty and the Heartbreakers.
While the doc is somewhat enlightening for fans who want a glimpse into the making of Wildflowers, the decisions that were made that resulted in certain songs being cut, how certain songs were made, the hiring of a lovely new drummer Steve Ferrone, and the organic, free-flowing mood of the record “Somewhere You Feel Free” is ultimately largely free of conflict. It’s a reflective and heartfelt reminder of the making of the album by Rubin, the remaining Heartbreakers, Petty’s daughters, and Petty himself through the archive footage and audio.
But this is the essential: Wildflowers was emotionally difficult for Petty at the time, but ultimately one of the happiest times of his life and certainly the most creative satisfaction. Petty had stripped down his sound, got back to basics, made his loosest and soulful album, and penned the ultimate artistic statement he’d always hoped to make (and yes, casual fans will love it, and maybe that’s enough for them although I count myself among them). With the help of the more-is-less approach of Rubin, Kopaketische bandmates and Petty, who finally believed he could bare his soul, Wildflowers is a delightfully forsaken and remorseful record. “Somewhere where you feel free Sure, it captures the zeitgeist, the sadness, the warmth, and the creative openness, but one could easily argue that it doesn’t really add that much material value aside from some making-of stories and what’s already inside poignant grooves of music. [B-]
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