In 1994, Gainesville native and rock legend Tom Petty released his career-defining solo album “Wildflowers.” Since the release of the 15-track masterpiece, “Wildflowers” built a legacy that followed Petty throughout life and proceeded beyond his lifetime with his 2017 death due to an accidental overdose.
About 26 years later since it’s original release, “Wildflowers” finally grew into full bloom Oct. 16 with the release of 10 tracks that faced the chopping block when Warner Bros squashed Petty’s vision of a double-album opus. Along with 10 newly released songs from the 1994 studio sessions, “Wildflowers & All The Rest” delivers 15 “Home Recordings” and 14 Live performance tracks never previously released to the public, tallying up to three hours and 54 minutes of content.
The “All The Rest” selection of unreleased tracks finds Petty and producer Rick Rubin in the same headspace as the original 15 tracks — mellow and bright while introspective and vulnerable.
The first of the bunch, “Something Could Happen,” kicks things off in a remarkably soft manner with a delicate piano melody, relaxed acoustic pluckings and a whiny performance that tops most from the original tracklist.
“Leave Virginia Alone” is an early highlight with Petty delivering an eloquent love song over a relaxed soft rock rhythm that sounds like it walked out of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Cosmo’s Factory” project. While the instrumentation remains humble, Petty’s lyricism is unparalleled.
“You should’ve seen her back in the city / Poetry and jewels, broke all the rules / She was as high as a Georgia pine tree / Makeup and pills, overdue bills,” he sings on the four-minute track.
“Harry Green” exemplifies Petty’s vulnerable storytelling skills as he recalls his high school friend who protected him, played the guitar for Tom and ultimately ended up taking his own life. Over a solemn guitar and mournful harmonica wales, listeners can feel the trauma and lifelessness behind the microphone while Petty relives a teenage nightmare.
The uninspiring, half-baked blues rock song “Climb That Hill Blues” is the most disappointing new track, arriving with a static guitar riff accompanied by a vocal performance so poorly mixed listeners can hardly hear Petty. When a revamp of this track arrives six songs later — “Climb That Hill” — with a deep electric guitar riff and a lively, well-mixed performance from Petty, it’s clear this set of bonus tracks offered transparency of the 1994 recording sessions, not tastefulness.
“Hung Up and Overdue” delivers a fitting close to the new tracks that makes one question why this wasn’t the closing track all along. Rather than reminiscent talk of being “just a poor boy” — as is the case with the original closing track, “Wake Up Time” — “Hung Up and Overdue” serves as a subtle celebration and love-inspired call to action for Petty. With warm accompanying vocals and hypnotic piano repetition, Petty lullabies the album to a dreamy close
He sings, “I can’t get her out of my head / Could be just stars in my eyes / Could be this one happened twice / We’re overdue for a dream come true.”
The album swiftly moves into the “Home Recordings” section with another never-before-seen track “There Goes Angela.” Aside from the absence of drums and amplification of Petty’s harmonica riffs, the track operates like any other quieter cut from the 25 studio tracks. Despite the lack of studio level polishing, the track carries an organic, warm aroma that sets the precedent of the acoustic experience that ensues.
Of the 15 “Home Recordings,” fans receive acoustic renditions of four tracks from the newly released “All the Rest” including, most notably, “California.” While the ode to his West Coast home flops in studio recordings, the barebones production of the acoustic version gives Petty space to add swagger to the previously dull track.
The pinnacle moments of the almost four-hour experience arrive with the acoustic recordings of classics such as “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” “To Find a Friend” and “Wildflowers.” While head-banging rock anthems are amplified by live performances, these easy-going tracks are breathing a new life and heart-melting warmth over acoustic riffs and softer mixing.
The “Home Recordings” aren’t entirely filled with dimmer spins on the studio tracks. The home recording of “A Higher Place” flexes the blues-rock side of Petty’s skill set with passionate guitar strums and a notable incorporation of harmonica licks, fitting for any road trip.
The final leg of “Wildflowers & All The Rest” features 14 live performances where Petty and his Heartbreakers ignite the brighter moments of “Wildflowers” — among songs from other projects — into an experience filled with charisma and character.
Obvious fits for a live concert — including “You Wreck Me,” “Honey Bee” and “Cabin Down Below” — are delivered here in routine fashion, and the lack of creative divergence from the studio versions of these tracks renders them as nothing more than fillers on this project, despite how incredible they may feel in person.
Undoubtedly, the most improved upon track from studio to live performance arrives with “Find a Friend.” Petty exercises the versatility of both himself and this song by morphing it from a slow, acoustic harmony to an upbeat singalong. After Petty admits he’s never performed the song live, the song pulsated with life as supporting vocals, pacing snare drums, and a backup banjo give the track a lively renewal, making the lyrics, “And days went by, like paper in the wind / Everything changed, and then it changed again” feel cheery.
Other unique highlights from the live selections are “Drivin Down to Georgia” — a song last released on “The Live Anthology” in 2009 — which is the Heartbreakers’ most explosive track over the five hours. Another memorable track comes from “Girl on LSD” — a B-Side song that, from the live recording, seems like an impromptu addition to the tracklist.
“I never really take requests, but I saw somebody with a sign out there and it reminded me of a song I haven’t played in a long time,” Petty confessed on the track. After the “Girl on LSD” performance he jokingly apologies, “I’m sorry about that. I don’t know what happened to me there.” The tongue-in-cheek moment not only wins over the hearts of the live audience, but makes any current listeners mournful of the loss of an easygoing spirit.
“Wildflowers & All The Rest” is available on Spotify and Apple Music.