March 22, 1995
Tom Petty, Wildflowers (Warner Bros. 1994) - So I'm a little behind the times on this one. Wildflowers has been out for six months, and is already double platinum. I liked this album from the day I got it; here's my belated good words about the latest work from Florida-rocker-gone-Hollywood Tom Petty.
Petty's career began in 1976 with his self-titled debut album. With his direct vocal style and disarmingly blunt lyrics, Petty soon grabbed the attention of the rock world. While his career smoldered for many years, it burst into full flower with Full Moon Fever (1989), a wonderful disc produced by friend Jeff Lynne (formerly of Electric Light Orchestra), which spawned such hits as "I Won't Back Down" and "Free Fallin'".
This success was followed by 1991's Into the Great Wide Open, which found Petty reunited with his rock-solid band, the Heartbreakers. In a true showing of care for his fans, Petty played many smaller venues on the Great Wide Open tour, including a tremendous gig at Selland Arena in Fresno in the summer of 1991.
Petty's best work has always been guitar-based rock; though he's matured through the years, he's never abandoned his roots. Instead of pandering to his audience, he just keeps playing the music he knows best. Eventually, the record-buying public recognized his honesty and integrity. That's what makes him so credible. That's what's made him a star.
Though Wildflowers is billed as a "solo" album, it's very much a group project. Thus, Petty is joined by long-time associates Mike Campbell on guitars, Benmont Tench on keyboards, Howie Epstein on vocals and bass, and Ringo Starr, who contributes the drum track to one song.
The early buzz about Wildflowers centered on the production work by Rick Rubin, the owner of American Records, whose career has primarily consisted of work with rappers and hard-core metal artists. Rubin produced the extremely sparse American Recordings by Johnny Cash in 1994, which garnered much critical acclaim. I've never been able to discern a trademark "Rick Rubin" sound; instead, I think his greatest contribution is finding the main strength of the artist he's working with and playing to it.
Petty's primary strength is as a tunesmith and rocker, and producer Rubin plays it to the hilt on Wildflowers. Featuring 15 songs in its 62 minutes, the disc shows why Petty has become a revered "elder" statesman. From the laid-back anthem, "You Don't Know How It Feels" (and doesn't that title summarize the rock 'n roll attitude in itself?) to the more mellow, "It's Good to be King" to the kick-out rocker, "Cabin Down Below," Wildflowers is a carefully-planned and fully-developed musical statement.
Petty's the real thing, and more than deserving of his new-found fame. Though he's now a big star, Petty's never forgotten his roots and the fans who supported him along the way. Trust the master. Enjoy Wildflowers.
Ray Bailey, Satan's Horn (Zoo 1995) -- The debut album by Ray Bailey is the major-label reissue of an extraordinary one-night studio session that was recorded in the spring of 1993. While the artwork makes it appear that the 39-year-old Bailey is some kind of ghetto rapper, he's actually a bluesman extraordinaire, and a formidable talent.
Incredibly, the disc was recorded, mixed, and edited during one intense 12-hour studio session. Produced by Crosby Tyler, the album features Ray on guitars and vocals, Randy Goldberg on drums, Bill Willis on organ, and Jeff Littleton on bass.
Though recorded in a rush, Satan's Horn sounds as relaxed as a midnight jam session. Virtually every song reflects Ray's experiences in his South Central Los Angeles neighborhood, and several draw upon his past drug experiences, including the title track, in which he sings of a crack-addicted friend who "spends her nights blowing Satan's horn" (a play on words based on the slang name for crack pipes as "horns").
All of the cuts on Satan's Horn (except one) are originals; while Bailey's lyrics could use some polishing (lines such as "You told me you was a virgin girl/And you look mighty clean/I knew it would be tight now/So I brought me some Vaseline" on "Love Her With a Feeling" are embarrassing), but his heart and soul are in the right place.
When Bailey kicks out on an extended guitar-based blues jam (such as "Bad Times, Sad Times"), the album truly comes to life. Says Bailey, "I was hugely influenced by jazz. I grew up with the organ trio-type thing, which is what I work with a lot, organ trio. I played with Johnny "Hammond" Smith and Jimmy McGriff and a lot of the jazz organ players. There's a lot of that stuff in my music."
Bailey continues. "It's fiery, it's funky, and its danceable. It's the blues. All of the window dressing is gone, and it's one human being to another. I'm really proud of it."
As well he should be. The comparison to the late Ted Hawkins is inevitable, as both The Next Hundred Years and Satan's Horn represent amazing come-from-nowhere blues albums. Though Hawkins' voice was stronger, Bailey's earnest, jazzy sense of the blues can't be overlooked. Just based on its recording history, Satan's Horn is incredible. Turn down the lights, get out your Marlboro's and 16-ounce malt liquor, and enjoy this disc.
-- Randy Krbechek
Copyright (c) Randy Krbechek
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