Almost exactly a year after his death in the fall of 2017, Reprise Records put out the 4CD deluxe boxset by Tom Petty entitled An American Treasure. The set was compiled by Petty’s daughter Adria and wife Dana along with old bandmates Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, plus Ryan Ulyate. Rather than just listening to the greatest hits, the set includes 42 never before released tracks comprised of outtakes, live versions and alternate mixes that plays like a mixtape made by a massive Tom Petty fan.
The deluxe edition is separated into four different decades with the first being the 1970s. The first track “Surrender” is an outtake from the self-titled debut album that sounds like it could be on the Greatest Hits collection. “The Wild One, Forever”, an album track from the debut sounds a bit like a young Springsteen. Both “Listen To Her Heart” and “Breakdown” appear in live form with the darker “When the Time Comes” from the second album You’re Gonna Get It appearing in an alternate mix as does one of Petty’s finest pop songs “Here Comes My Girl”. (9.5/10)
The 80s disc starts with “Keep a Little Soul”, an outtake from Long After Dark, which had never been released until this compilation. The midtempo rocker sounds like it’s been played on the radio forever. Two tracks later, Petty matches it with another outtake from that same album, “Keeping Me Alive” that is a particular highlight from this disc. Fan favourite “Even the Losers” appears in live form with not much more than an acoustic guitar and some piano. Not released until Full Moon Fever in 1989, “The Apartment Song (Demo)” shows up as a terrific duet with Stevie Nicks which is now the go to version. “Rebels (Alternate Take)” features a nice bit of horns while Full Moon Fever B-side “Don’t Treat Me Like a Stranger” sees Petty pleading not to be forgotten. Amusingly, Kareem Abdul Jabbar appears halfway through the disc introducing the band to a LA crowd. (9/10)
An acoustic version of massive hit “I Won’t Back Down” from 1997 opens disc 3. The crowd cheering sends a shiver through the listener. A straightforward version of “Into the Great Wide Open” also comes in a live version just behind that album’s track “You and I Will Meet Again” which is a standout here. The rest of the disc is dominated by Wildflowers era songs including outtake “Lonesome Dave” named after Foghat’s Dave Peverett and the lovely “To Find a Friend” where Petty makes the simple yet sad statement, “it’s hard to find a friend”. “Accused of Love” from the Echo album is a late disc highlight. (8.5/10)
The fourth disc opens with three terrific tracks from the generally poorly reviewed The Last DJ album with the clubhouse version of “You and Me” being a particular highlight. The South gets namechecked in the laidback groove of Hypnotic Eye outtake “Bus to Tampa Bay” and going to see his Dad’s mistress on “Down South”. A spare yet moving live version of “Southern Accents” from 2006 is another highlight. Two of the last three tracks are dedicated to early band Mudcrutch. The first being the upbeat “Save Your Water” and in a touching ending, the set closes with a live version of “Hungry No More” where Petty says goodbye to the crowd before it fades into a dream. (8.5/10)
The extraordinary thing while listening to these tracks is that it’s hard to separate the big hits from the outtakes and the live tracks sound like they could have been done in a studio with crowd noise pumped in. Unlike other vocalists, Petty sounds similar in every form and variation. Not mentioned above is the wonderful Heartbreaker band who are master musicians that add skill, support and warmth throughout. American Treasure stands as a towering achievement to the great Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers that leaves the listener wanting to hear more of their legendary American rock and roll music.