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Album Review: “Wildflowers & All the Rest” by Tom Petty

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“Wildflowers & All the Rest” is everything and more a Tom Petty fan could hope for in a reissue and includes the album’s 14 original songs, 10 that Petty intended to release and almost 30 home and live recordings PHOTO COURTESY OF TOMPETTY.COM

Samuel Orazem EBS Contributor

5/5 Stars 

I was first introduced to Tom Petty when he played the halftime show at the Super Bowl XLII in 2008. I was 10 at the time and had never had much interest in any music except what was played on Kansas City’s Mix93.3—top 40 hits, such as  the Black Eyed Peas and Rihanna. That halftime show was the first time I began to look at rock as something that might be of interest to me. While my twelve years of exposure to Tom Petty’s catalogue is comparatively short, when he passed in 2017 still felt like I lost one of the most influential artists in my music-listening career. Because of all of that, this reissue of “Wildflowers” was of particular interest to me.

“Wildflowers & All the Rest” is everything you hope a reissue of one of your favorite albums could be. The album is not just a cheap remastering of the original material like the cheap movie remakes often released nowadays. This reissue is packed to the brim and the deluxe includes the album’s 14 original songs, 10 that Petty intended to release but were axed by the label, and almost 30 home and live recordings.

The remastered tracks are unchanged—as one would hope of something as wonderful as “Wildflowers.” The ten newly released tracks fit neatly into the album’s introspective theme. From the first listen, it is understandable why Petty chose to cut these specific ten songs out of the original release at his label’s request, but they are still a welcome addition to the track list. “Wildflowers” feels more complete with their addition and, while they may not end up in any of “Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits” playlists, anyone who considers themselves a Tom Petty fan will probably add a few of them into their regular rotation.

The home recordings are where this reissue truly peaks. “Wildflowers” always felt like a deeply introspective album for Petty after moving on from The Heartbreakers and testing the waters of solo artistry. These home recording give an extremely intimate view into Petty’s life and make the life of a rock star feel oddly familiar. Any listener, especially those who play an instrument themselves, will experience an uncanny emotional resonance upon hearing a larger-than-life person in such a personal setting. Hearing Petty playing hits like “You Don’t Know How It Feels” in his home, without a backing track, frantically but suavely switching between guitar and harmonica will make any home-musician feel like they can make the next hit all on their own.

That feeling of this reissue being intensely personal is ultimately what makes it work so well. It feels like, for once, label executives created an album for fans. It is an aggressively personal, posthumous look into Petty’s experience of life and, depending on the version, has a runtime of up to five hours. In a time characterized by flagrantly impersonal remakes and reissues of classic media that only functional serve as reminders that the original work exists, “Wildflowers & All the Rest” manages to rise above the rest and feel truly worthwhile. Its extensive runtime never feels exaggerated to justify the reissue’s existence and every piece feels curated and cohesive.

Each part feels like it is in its proper place, just like Tom Petty would have wanted it. 

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