Welcome to Petty Country

A tribute album called Petty Country came out last week; as the title may suggest, it’s a bunch of country music artists doing Tom Petty songs.

It’s… hm. I have a fraught relationship with country music, so this is maybe not quite my thing. But I’m not writing it off completely.

Some of the songs are… say you imagined in your head “what would this Tom Petty song sound like if it were covered by a generic country music singer?” And it’s that. Still a couple of those sound, you know, kinda good.

Some of them though are a bit more inspired. Wynonna Judd and Lainey Wilson duet on “Refugee”, which is very solid. Someone named “Dierks Bentley” adds a bluegrass thing to “American Girl” which fits more than it may seem like.

On the other hand, someone named “Thomas Rhett” ruins “Wildflowers”. That song needs to be sparse, and there’s too much going on in this version.

Someone named “Margo Price” plays a good song called “Ways to be Wicked” which I had never heard before. While I’m not a super expert on Tom Petty deep cuts, I’m not bad, but this was way too deep for me. I had to look it up and it’s from Nobody’s Children, a disc of previously-unreleased songs on the mid-90s box set Playback (disc 6, specifically). Nice job digging that one up. Mike Campbell (Petty’s long time collaborator and guitar player, who also co-wrote this song) plays and sings on it too along with Margo.

The definite highlight though is Dolly Parton singing “Southern Accents”. Maybe this is a bit “Dolly Parton is a good singer: news at 11”, but yes, she does nail it.

I would say if you like country music check it out: certainly Tom Petty was a solid gold songwriter so there are artists you may know more than I do playing some of the best songs of the past 50 years. If you’re more iffy on the full-on country sound like I am, then maybe it’s still worth giving a listen, because again, great songs, right?

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I’m a fan of country but have almost always come at it from a non-mainstream perspective. By this I mean that with few exceptions, I’ve skirted along the fringes. In the 70s it was country rock and Outlaw country, in the 80s it was cowpunk, from the 90s to the present, it’s been alt.country which these days tends to fall under the Americana umbrella.
“Ways To Be Wicked” first came to most folks’ attention thanks to Lone Justice. At that point I’m not sure that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had even recorded their own version yet but they did shortly thereafter. I love Margo Price. She is one of my favorites to come out of the alt.country/Americana movement. She’s also an unabashed, long time Petty fan which I’m sure lends itself to her performance of the song.
All this said, I have little more than a passing interest in this tribute album but it comes more from the Petty angle than it does the country one. I’ve just never been the biggest fan. I don’t hate him or dislike him, I’m more neutral but there are a few songs I’m a fan of. I’ve just never been all in.

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aha, I didn’t know that Lone Justice version of Ways to be Wicked, maybe that explains its inclusion.

My thing with country is how quite a lot of what I listen to is really close to it – from the folk angle, from the Americana angle, some bluegrass-influence – but there’s some invisible line I have trouble crossing.

With Tom Petty, he was kind of a reliable guy in the background of stuff I listened to for a long time, but I kind of fell away from listening to him for quite awhile. Then at some point in the past few years I’ve started going back to him pretty often. It seems like every year in the summer I start pulling out his music again.

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Dolly Parton’s “Southern Accents” video:

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