Tom Petty…Finding Wildflowers (Review)

Tom Petty’s estate has released the Finding Wildflowers album as a stand alone purchase (1 CD or 2 LP’s).  Prior to this, it was only available as the 5th disc in the Super Deluxe box set for an extra $100.  The single CD was just $15 on Amazon.  I appreciate being able to get the 16 tracks for $85 less.

(The single disc Finding Wildflowers next to my well-worth-it $50 4-disc set  Wildflowers & All The Rest.  There’s a review of the set on this site.)

These songs are mostly alternate earlier versions of the ones on the Wildflowers album.  As you would expect, the final recordings that were chosen for the original album are the best versions, but there are some good things happening with these tracks too.

Let’s look at some of these versions individually.

The disc starts with “A Higher Place”, because it’s well done.  However, it misses the vocal harmony that helps the song soar.  This certainly could have been the final version if the harmony part had been added.  You can even hear Tom Petty say “Real good” after the take ends.

”Cabin Down Below” is the version on this CD that most obviously is as good as the one on the original album.  It’s slightly looser, and features more of Benmont Tench’s piano and Mike Campbell’s guitar work.  There’s about 40-seconds extra of cool guitar instrumental at the end.  This track has all of the Heartbreakers, including drummer Stan Lynch and bassist Howie Epstein.

An acoustic version of “Cabin Down Below” is also on this CD, and would be a nice addition to any Tom Petty collection.

”Crawling Back To You” is a really good Heartbreakers’ version (they’re all on it).  The impressive piano playing by Benmont Tench stands out.  The only slight negative is that the vocal isn’t as upfront as the final version, but even so, some people might prefer this one.

”Only A Broken Heart” features the piano a little more too.  It’s good, but Tom Petty nailed the vocal better on the original release.

”You Wreck Me” doesn’t rock quite as much as on the original album.  In the booklet, Benmont Tench mentions that you can hear his piano on this version.  He says… “on some of the rock songs on Wildflowers, although I was playing, you don’t hear me.”  One of the best reasons for owning these alternate versions is that Benmont’s playing is more clearly featured, and he’s so good!

”It’s Good To Be King” is a slower version, and although enjoyable, it seems like a work in progress.  Now that we know how fantastic the song is with the brilliant orchestration on the original, it’s missed here.

”Wildflowers” is a good less-produced version, and certainly would have been acceptable, but it’s not the perfection of the final version on the original album.  This one has Ringo Starr on drums.  At the beginning Tom says “Count it off Ringo”.  Pretty cool for a Beatles fan to be able to say that.

”Don’t Fade On Me” can’t quite match the original, but it’s a good version with a cool bluesy guitar and effective harmony vocals toward the end.

”Wake Up Time” is a reasonable attempt, but Tom Petty’s vocal wasn’t as good a take, and his voice sounds pinched at times.

“Drivin’ Down To Georgia” is the studio version, and a welcome addition.

“You Saw Me Comin’” is an unreleased song, and I think there’s a good reason for that.  As my wife, Jeannette, and I were listening to it for the first time, I said to her that the melody is familiar from another song.  She thought about it for awhile, and then nailed it.  She said it sounds like Joni Mitchell’s “Urge For Goin’”.  We first heard the song by Tom Rush, who recorded it in 1968 (even before Joni recorded it).  Someone had to have told Tom Petty about the similarity, so that’s probably why “You Saw Me Comin’” remained hidden until now.

Finding Wildflowers definitely has enough good recordings to make it a very welcome addition to my collection.  The more I listen to the tracks, the more I appreciate them.  They help complete the picture of how the masterwork, Wildflowers, was created by Tom Petty, producer Rick Rubin, and some great musicians.

The booklet includes good descriptions & comments on all the alternate tracks, and the lists of the musicians on each recording.  This disc shows us the link in the process between those impressive home demos Tom made, and the completed songs on the album.

Update:  As of November 11th, 2021, a documentary about the making of Wildflowers is available on YouTube (moved to Prime Video Oct., 2023).  It’s called Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free.

Extra:  Here’s the link to an article about Tom Petty’s album Angel Dream:

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