By Mike Snider, USA TODAY Published 10:03 a.m. ET Sept. 29, 2018 | Updated 3:45 p.m. ET Oct. 1, 2018
"An American Treasure," a new four-disc posthumous collection of music by the late Rock & Roll Hall of Fame musician and bandleader Tom Petty, will likely be met with mixed emotions.
Even a die-hard fan could argue the need for this specific retrospective, which arrives a year after Petty's death at age 66 from cardiac arrest Oct. 2, 2017.
There are 10 unreleased songs among the 60 tracks collected here, but nearly one-third come straight from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ official album releases (although all have been remastered). And even more are alternate versions or demos of previously released songs.
Beyond that, more than a dozen are live performances of Heartbreakers' staples such as "Breakdown," "Even the Losers" and "A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)" – already chronicled on "The Live Anthology," a multidisc release from 2009. These are different performances, however, with this recording of "A Woman in Love" coming from a concert the day prior to the one on "The Live Anthology."
But those are minor issues when it comes to this timely "Treasure."
Petty's wife, Dana, daughter Adria and bandmates guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench, both of whom spent more than 40 years in the Heartbreakers, lovingly curated the set. Producer Ryan Ulyate, who worked with Petty and the band since 2005, also mixed the newly released recordings.
There's plenty of hits here and also nuggets from some of Petty's lesser-heralded albums, including an alternate version of "Straight Into Darkness" from 1982's "Long After Dark" and a stripped-down "The Damage You've Done" from 1987's "Let Me Up (I've Had Enough)" album.
An unreleased take on "Rebels" has a more prominent horn section than the original on the 1985 platinum Heartbreakers album "Southern Accents," and Petty's distinctive shriek closes out the song.
Live tracks will remind longtime fans why they cherished Heartbreakers concerts. A fun segment from a June 28, 1981, show at the L.A. Forum has NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then a member of the Lakers) introducing the band before a furious "Kings Road."
Two of the unreleased songs, "Gainesville" and "Bus to Tampa Bay" recorded in 1998 and 2011, respectively, show Petty reminiscing about the band's formative days in Florida, before their move to Los Angeles in 1970. Another, the expressive ballad "Lost In Your Eyes," was recorded in 1975 by Mudcrutch, Petty's pre-Heartbreakers ensemble, but never released.
Longtime friend Stevie Nicks appears on two tracks: a 1984 demo of "The Apartment Song," a song that eventually would show up on Petty's 1989 solo multiplatinum smash "Full Moon Fever" (without Nicks) and a live 2006 recording of "Insider," a song Petty had written for Nicks' own solo efforts but kept for the 1981 "Hard Promises" album, and instead gave her "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," which became a hit duet.
A personal favorite is a punchier, more piano-driven take of "King of the Hill," a duet Petty wrote with Roger McGuinn for the former Byrds’ leader’s "Back to Rio" 1991 solo release (Petty served as arranger on the entire album).
The box set ends with a jammy live version of "Hungry No More," from Mudcrutch 2, the second album Petty recorded with his pre-Heartbreakers group.
That song embodies “why this set is coming out,” Tench says in liner notes within a 52-page booklet accompanying the four-CD deluxe edition ($44.99). “You knew that he was great, because you all sang along to ‘Free Fallin'’ and ‘Refugee’ and ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’ and ‘I Won’t Back Down.’ But there’s more, and we want everybody to hear that."
Those who spring for the Super Deluxe Limited Edition ($149.99) get a larger hardback with more photographs and an essay by author Nicholas Dawidoff ("In the Country of Country"), as well as a lithograph of the album's cover art and reproductions of Petty's handwritten lyrics. A two-CD standard edition of "Treasure" ($10.99 on Amazon) collects 26 of the tracks, and coming Nov. 23, a six-LP vinyl edition ($149.98).
Listening to this set, fans likely will feel a resurgence of sadness at the loss of the beloved singer-songwriter. Don't let that scare you away from this bittersweet, but rewarding, experience.
As Tench says in the liner notes: "People still say to me, ‘You guys were the soundtrack to my life.’ Well, we were the soundtrack to mine, too – I just heard it before anybody else. I grew up playing with these guys, and my heart is as broken as anybody’s.”