Picks and Pans Review: Southern Accents

updated 04/29/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/29/1985 01:00AM

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Muscle Shoals. If poetic justice were at work, Tom Petty would have recorded all his albums at that Alabama studio. The name fits perfectly with the lean, wiry rock that Petty and the Heartbreakers have excelled at since 1976—until now, that is. Southern Accents could be more appropriately linked with Okefenokee. Nowhere on this unfocused collection does the group really climb out of the mire. The closest it comes is Rebels, a tepid rehashing of the 1980 hit Here Comes My Girl. Petty has always maintained a more folksy side, one clearly influenced by the Byrds' Roger McGuinn. That mellow feeling occasions the pretty title track. The string arrangement by Jack Nitzche deepens the lyrics' sad sentiment without burying the fine playing of Ben Tench on piano and Mike Campbell on dobro. Too much of the album, though, is not just uncharacteristic; it is clearly wrongheaded. Echoes of such disparate performers as Fleetwood Mac, J.J. Cale and Randy Newman seem to bounce around the arrangements. There are such anachronisms as a sitar and a guitar filtered through a Wa-Wa pedal. Perhaps it is Petty's teaming up with the Eurythmics' David Stewart (who co-wrote some of the songs) that has taken him out of his element. But not one of the songs on Southern Accents can approach such previous Petty hits as I Need To Know or Breakdown. This would have to be regarded as the first real lapse in Petty's recording career. Let's hope the Florida-born rocker was just whistling Dixie this time. (MCA)

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