The Dean Is Risen

Some Dean Martin albums we wish existed

Conversely, Petty is also one of the few performers who can sap the uncertainty out of psychedelic drugs. Anyone who's seen Petty live knows that the mind-blowing "Don't Come Around Here No More" can turn even the brownest acid bright yellow. This complex, deliciously layered track is something of an anomaly for Petty -- a kaleidoscopic wink at the sunshine daydream. But by and large, Petty has left the Haight-Ashbury set to itself. Someone's got to carry the red states, after all.

There have been rampant rumors that the current run that Petty is on with his Heartbreakers may be the band's last full-bore tour. Meantime, Petty has released a charmingly melancholy new solo album, Highway Companion, that's as evocative as 1994's splendid Wildflowers. The two strongest tracks on the new release are ballads: "Damaged by Love," which explores the passionate pitfalls of young love, and "Down South," which pays lyrical homage to the late Warren Zevon ("Gonna see my daddy's mistress / Gonna buy back her forgiveness / Pay off every witness") while melodically resembling "Walls," the hit single from the 1996 She's the One soundtrack, an Ed Burns-helmed chick flick for thirtysomething guys that Petty scored all by his lonesome. Yet when Petty lets the gasket blow mid-album with "Big Weekend," he does so sans nuance. Hence, the literal weekend-warrior chorus: "I need a big weekend / Kick up the dust / Yeah, a big weekend / If you don't run, you rust." Mike Reno only wishes he could achieve such lyrical grace.

Still, Highway Companion is a deliberately small album, which is de rigueur for Petty, who's never been one to make any grand proclamations about the state of the union. Rather, his songs might focus on a wayward couple in a town, population 30,000, hashing out their differences at twilight over buck-fifty Buds in a basement saloon a block off State Street. If and when they kiss and make up, maybe they wander down the hill to the fairgrounds to dance, drink and strip in the bushes. Or maybe they end it once and for all, then and there. We can all relate, which is what Petty presumably wants us to do. -- Mike Seely

The No. 1 crooner -- or is that No. 2?
The No. 1 crooner -- or is that No. 2?
All-American Petty has no burden of place.
All-American Petty has no burden of place.

Tom Petty appears Saturday, August 5, at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands. Trey Anastasio is also on the bill. For more information, call 713-629-3700.

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