It really was Wildflowers that opened my brain up to the genius of Tom Petty. Sure, I grew up listening to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Lots of great songs and that work alone puts him up at the top of the rock and roll pedestal with the artists that influenced him in the first place. And for sure I loved Traveling Wilburys, and of course Petty’s Full Moon Fever. All amazing records.
But Wildflowers felt like a true work of art. Petty ascended to a whole new level of singer/songwriter on the Rick Rubin-produced record that came out in 1994. There’s not a single filler track here, and in fact there was so much he had demoed and recorded that we now have Wildflowers & All The Rest. This is the ultimate Wildflowers set which includes the original album, as well as unreleased tracks, demo versions of album tracks, and songs performed live. It’s an insightful, expansive, and complete view into one of Tom Petty’s most creative, vital, and monumental periods of his career.
Wildflowers still stands as an absolute classic rock record. Petty was digging deep and writing from his heart, and it stood out even more as it followed the Jeff Lynne-produced Into The Great Wide Open. By contrast Rick Rubin is more of a hands-off producer, letting the instruments breathe naturally in the studio. His sonic style fit perfectly with Petty’s “getting back to basics” mood. From album opener “Wildflowers” to album closer “Wake Up Time” this record has an organic feel to it. Nothing sounds forced or hard to finish. Each track breathes and grows with each listen.
Wildflowers came out a month before my 21st birthday. I was getting heavily into writing and recording my own songs on a Tascam 4-track cassette Portastudio. The raw, intimate sound of Wildflowers was very influential on me. I wanted to write songs like “Wildflowers”, “Honey Bee”, “It’s Hard To Find A Friend”, “Only A Broken Heart”, and “You Wreck Me”. For the first time that I’d noticed, Tom Petty came across as this vulnerable artist. He was writing songs his own heroes would be envious of.
As it turned out, this was a creative bloom for Petty, as his musical cup runneth over. He had all kind of extra tracks he’d penned during this time, but settled on the 15 amazing songs included in the original 1994 album. So “all the rest” sat in the Petty vault until now.
With the massive amounts of demos and unreleased tracks it’s evident this was a fruitful time in Tom Petty’s career, and also a tumultuous one for him personally. The break up of his marriage worked its way into the songs, but nothing ever felt maudlin. First and foremost Tom Petty is a songwriter. There’s so many great unreleased tracks here that it could’ve been a proper follow-up to Wildflowers on their own. Tracks like “Leave Virginia Alone”, “Climb That Hill Blues”, “Harry Green”, and “Somewhere Under Heaven” all feel like fully-formed pop classics that could’ve easily filled out a follow-up to Wildflowers. “Something Could Happen” is hauntingly gorgeous. “California” showed up later on the She’s The One soundtrack, as did “Hung Up and Overdue”, which Petty wrote for filmmaker Edward Burns.
Besides the unreleased and fully fleshed out songs, there’s some amazing home recordings; demo versions of album tracks that Petty performed on either acoustic guitar or piano that have an almost baroque quality to them. There’s also some amazing live takes of the Wildflowers tracks that are well worth owning.
Having these songs appear out of the ether three years after losing Tom Petty feels like the musical surprise we could all use right about now. Wildflowers was already an absolute classic, but now with Wildflowers & All The Rest it becomes all the more classic. It stands as a shining achievement, and a prolific moment in Petty’s epic career.
9.5 out of 10