For a man who fronts one of the most enduring bands in rock ’n’ roll, it’s an oddity that two of Tom Petty’s finest albums are solo discs — 1989’s “Full Moon Fever” and this one.
“Highway Companion” finds Petty fully focused and delivering some of his most durable melodies in many years. It features only three musicians — Petty, producer Jeff Lynne and Heartbreaker Mike Campbell — and the combination forces Petty to keep it musically and lyrically direct.
The well-titled disc is a loosely thematic one about restlessness. Characters are finding themselves on the road, losing themselves on the road and often both. “If you don’t run you rust,” he sings on “Big Weekend,” and no line better sums up these songs.
The melodic clarity can occasionally allow boredom to sneak in on weaker tracks like “Damaged By Love,” but they’re the exception. “Square One” is among Petty’s most gorgeous melodies, and Campbell accents it with a guitar solo that pays tribute to Petty’s former Traveling Wilburys mate, George Harrison. Lynne is a truly sympathetic partner. The primary weakness of his work is productions that can all sound the same; he avoids it here to let the songs shine through.
It makes no sense that this album comes out while Petty is in the midst of a gala 30th anniversary tour with the Heartbreakers. Don’t think twice, though. Enjoy them both.