2016 and 2017 were pretty rough years as far as losing iconic artists. 2016 saw the deaths of David Bowie and Prince, with 2017 taking from us Chris Cornell and Tom Petty. I felt all of those losses as I was a huge fan of each of them, but Tom Petty hits the hardest for me. All of these icons soundtracked my life in different eras; be it me as a little kid hearing “Space Oddity” in the backseat of the family sedan, a 6th grader on the bus hearing “Raspberry Beret”, an angst-y teen feeling the groove of “Rusty Cage” or a middle-aged dad singing along to “Listen To Her Heart” as I’m driving to work some morning. These were significant artists that followed me from early childhood to, well, they’re still following me today.
If there was one artist that I found new respect, love, and admiration for over the years it would have to be Tom Petty. He was a songwriter that found success quickly once his debut album hit and continued to expand and grow his sound and success, not due to notes from label heads and hangers-on, but from his own need to grow. And as popular as Petty got in the late-70s and 80s, for me he truly blossomed on 1994s Wildflowers. That album took him from pop rock superstar to a true artist. That record carried a classic spirit from day one, and Petty truly ascended from there on.
In 1996 Tom Petty soundtracked the Edward Burns film She’s The One. It was a mediocre film with an amazing soundtrack. These songs were written during the Wildflowers cycle and it shows. Produced by Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell, and Rick Rubin, the tracks on that soundtrack continued the sparse, up close intimacy Wildflowers carried with it. In June of this year She’s The One was reimagined as a standalone Petty LP called Angel Dream. The songs from the soundtrack were remixed, remastered, and set in a new playing order. The results are a posthumous Tom Petty album that stands on it’s own as canon in his discography.
Angel Dream feels like a companion record to Wildflowers, and given that Petty’s 1994 album was supposed to be a double LP that makes sense. But these songs stand on their own as yet another masterful collection of songs, albeit one that doesn’t last as long as you’d hope.
“Angel Dream (No. 2)” opens this set and it’s Petty doing what he does best; sparse, intimate voice and guitar. “I followed an angel down through the gates/I can only thank God it was not too late” Petty sings in a hopeful song not about love lost, but love gained. “Change the Locks” has that jangly rock abandon that Wildflowers possessed in spades, while “Zero From Outer Space” shakes its tail feather like a Saturday night on fire.
One of the highlights for me from the original 1996 soundtrack was Tom Petty covering Beck’s “Asshole”. He gives the original’s scatterbrain stream-of-consciousness vocals some weight. It’s as if Tom Petty was meant to cover this song, as he makes it his own. “Walls(No. 3)” is included here which was the cleaner, more Byrds-inflected version of the song. For my money, ‘Walls(Circus)” was the stronger of the versions(with Lindsey Buckingham singing back up vocals), but this is still primo Tom for sure.
Unreleased tracks “One of Life’s Little Mysteries”, “105 Degrees”, and the JJ Cale cover “Thirteen Days” give us more insight into the songwriting cycle Petty was moving thru in this period of the early 90s.
For my money, Angel Dream is a wonderful gift from beyond the grave. A reimagining of songs from one of the great American songwriters and artists, giving us a “lost” album from Tom Petty culling from one of his most creative and vital periods. This is essential Tom Petty.