The loss of Tom Petty in 2017 was without question a massive blow to American rock ‘n’ roll music. For nearly five decades, Petty, either fronting the Heartbreakers or solo, helped create an unimpeachable catalog of solid rock ‘n’ roll songs that have soundtracked countless lives in times both good and bad. Because of his status in the pantheon of American artists, An American Treasure is about as fitting a title as a collection like this could hope to have. Compiled by his widow, daughter, former bandmates Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench and producer Ryan Ulyate, An American Treasure helps make a case for Petty’s status as a latter-day contributor to the Great American Songbook 2.0, one that also no doubt includes the likes of Petty’s former Traveling Wilburys bandmate Bob Dylan and few others.

Covering everything from his earliest days with Mudcrutch up to a live recording captured a year before his untimely death at age 66, An American Treasure seeks to function as an aural autobiography, providing a holistic overview of his life and career within the public spotlight. Foregoing a strict hits collection, An American Treasure instead places its focus on Petty’s evolution as a songwriter and master of the tightly-crafted rock ‘n’ roll ear worm. Bringing together remastered recordings, outtakes and live tracks from across the entire swath of his career, An American Treasure manages that rare feat of offering up a complete picture of an artist whose career spanned decades, bands and record labels.

With the earliest track dating from 1974 – the Mudcrutch outtake “Lost in Your Eyes” – the 42 years represented here show Petty having arrived seemingly fully-formed as a songwriter, only improving with age and experience. “Lost in Your Eyes,” with its mournful trumpet and piano-heavy arrangement sounds unlike most anything else here, but at its heart is the sound and feel of what millions of fans would come to immediately identify as the Tom Petty sound. That he would, at age 24, already be that established and confident in the sound that would define his career is nothing short of remarkable. As his years with the Heartbreakers progress, you can hear him building incrementally on what was already a rock solid confidence base.

And while there are a number of the expected hits scattered throughout (“Breakdown,” “Here Comes My Girl,” “I Won’t Back Down” and “Into the Great Wide Open” all make appearances, among others), they are presented in new and/or unfamiliar settings. The live recording of “Breakdown” from a November 1977 performance at Capitol Studios finds Petty and the Heartbreakers stretching out, allowing the track to unfold organically rather than short and sweet as in the more familiar album and radio cuts. Similarly, a live performance of “Even the Losers” from 1989, here rendered as an acoustic number, allows the song itself to shine through, showing the strength of Petty’s writing and knack for a hook. Performed on just acoustic, mandolin and piano, the song soars in a way the studio version only hints at.

Closing track “Hungry No More” offers a bittersweet conclusion to the collection. Recorded at the House of Blues in Boston in June of 2016 with Mudcrutch, the soaring, surging rocker acts as not only the album’s final moments, but also some of the final recordings Petty managed. A little over a year later he would be dead, his corporeal form silenced but the remarkable catalog of songs he committed to tape living on in perpetuity for generations of listeners to discover. An American Treasure may not be the best place to start for those just coming to Petty (is there such a person?), but it offers more than enough of the best the man had to offer and serves as a fitting tribute to a true American treasure.

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