Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers perform at Smirnoff Music Center on Friday, August 4.
Tom Petty has made some of the most apropos music to ever enhance windshield time, both solo and with the Heartbreakers. But despite its title, Highway Companion isn't exactly that. Instead, his new near-literally solo album--on which Petty plays a full complement of instruments down to the drums, abetted only by co-producers Jeff Lynne and Mike Campbell--bears an ambiance far more suited to wee-hour listening in an easy chair after a few favorite inebriants, feeling more reflective than looking at the road ahead. As a result, Highway Companion isn't as immediately stunning and appealing as Full Moon Fever and Wildflowers, Petty's two previous solo discs, yet it's nearly as seductive after continued spins. Assumedly, Lynne is a factor in this album's Beatle-esque and Brit-pop touches as well as garage rock accents to enhance Petty's American rock, but the spiritual heart of this work is an intimacy of expression by Petty that feels like a friend sharing his deep thoughts and even soul. Yes, travel is the primary skein that threads throughout the songs--obviously on "Turn This Car Around" and "Night Driver," as well as the chugging opener "Saving Grace" and meditative closer "The Golden Rose"--but the key line here is likely the album's next-to-last verse: "Many a night I would think of her, all alone."