Published on April 21st, 2017


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | Credit: Joel Bernstein

The big vistas that fill Tom Petty’s rock ‘n’ roll portraits of American life don’t always shimmer. Dark streaks and detours are spread across the horizons and highways of the Petty songbook — reminders that the lure of motion, change, and dreams fulfilled is sometimes a mirage. For every “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” with its road-riding bliss, Petty counters with fables such as “Into the Great Wide Open” and “American Girl,” whose rootless characters come to grief.

Petty’s own life is a kind of ideal, in which a kid from a small town — Gainesville, Florida — grows up to conquer the world through talent, band camraderie and the dogged pursuit of his vision. Petty, 66, can certainly take pride in his achievments. But he has a skeptical side that resists rock-star mythology.

That harder edge is pronounced on his most recent album with his mainstay band, the Heartbreakers, 2014’s Hypnotic Eye, and it’s often aimed at himself. Inside the terse groove of Fault Lines, Petty confronts personal failings, singing, “A man I know might not be me.”

On the basic, barre-chord stomp of “American Dream Plan B,” he steps back to address a   widening gulf between that dream — “a political scheme,” he drawls — and the contemporary reality: “My success is anybody’s guess/ But like a fool I’m bettin’ on happiness.”

Petty’s critiques of country, culture and self allow for disenchantment, but not hopelessness. When he sings, “I’m worn and wounded, but still the same,” on the pensive “Sins of My Youth“, it sounds like reconciliation — acknowledgement of having made it this far perhaps in spite of himself.

On his very latest work, 2016’s Mudcrutch 2 — another revival of his formative, pre-Heartbreaker band — Petty indulges more tenderness, and a fuller range of musical sounds and styles. It’s an album-length love note not just to his bygone youth but to the great range of American music that’s still out there to be heard, played and dreamed on.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers perform on May 5 at the Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre, West Palm Beach, 7:30pm. Joe Walsh opens.
~ Sean Piccoli

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