Since I've been revisiting, and reevaluating, Highway Companion a bit lately - this happens every now and then with me, and for most albums - and since I just yesterday read some insightful remarks over at the "best lyric" thread, about HC being a goldmine of great lyrics, I realized a resurrection of this old thread may be in place.
I've come to appreciate HC quite a lot. In a few more ways and places than I used to, that is. Some of my demur in this thread, from a few years back, still stands. Sure. That is, I still don't think Jeff and Tom gave the material the quite optimal treatment for it to really shine in full, to come alive dynamically, organically and so on. I still would have loved to hear some of those songs recorded more "live", perhaps some crunchy guitar more, some Ben magic added, a lot more high harmonies, too. Part of which, of course - and this may go just a bit beyond my personal belief - has to do with Jeff's production style. (To further delve in that discussion, see above). I also still find Saving Grace to be a somewhat strange leading off number, considering the overall context of HC, but I guess I've gotten used to it. I still haven't gotten used to Jack, though. I still think he's a little stinker, who's presence on HC, while the likes of Home was sitting on the shelf, is rather weird.*
Other than that, I think that somehow I've started to find more and more amazing details in the album. Not primarily lyrically - since I've known all along what great stories Tom tells on this album, or rather what poetic imagery and moods he creates. It really is smacked full of his best way with words. And "every punchline has your name" too.. Probably one of his best albums that way. Perhaps the best. He's on fire with some of those funny and artful wordings.
As for the sound, though, I'm not sure what may be due to remastering (or perhaps even some remixing, that hasn't been made official, though, but I doubt it) but, just as I have commented on with regards to Echo, I seem to hear a few more things in the mix these days. There are somehow "new" qualities to the sound itself. Not that I'm as thrilled over the production as I am over the lyrics or some of the compositions, but the whole audio experience actually HAS come a bit to life for me, it HAS become a tad bit less flat, claustrophobic, thick.. or whatever the word might be - which goes some ways to balance some of my previous "sonic critique" of this album. For example, what really stands out for me these days, is the tasteful, yet extremely intense little guitar solo in Down South (starting at about 1.55 min, I never quite appreicated that sound enough, if I even heard it properly.. even if this song has been one of my all-time favorites since day one.) Also, the harmonies on the Big Weekend chorus.. Have they really sounded that full and awesome, all the time? I guess I owe Jeff one, for that.
Also, not news exactly, but worth mentioning, is that while I have my doubts about how the album is being kicked off, it really ends on a high note. The Ankle Deep/Golden Rose back to back ending, is really among the best ever in the history of Tom Petty albums. Not only are they really good compositions, with such a wealth of evocative lyrics and soaked in these very intense stories and atmosphere.. perfect to sail out on - my only sorrow being how Golden Rose is faded out at the 4.30 min mark, instead of just going on.. for at least some two or three more minutes - there is something almost spooky in the sound here too, something that has been intensified with me lately - as if they worked a little extra to make the Golden Rose soundscape extra full and dynamic, at the same time as the slightly claustrophobic-yet-grandious Jeff qualities of it all is exactly what strenghten the thrill even more. There's a rift there somewhere, and it may be among the best stuff Jeff ever did. It's as if the whole experience enters dream mode, the driver finally falling asleep behind the wheel and in the split second before he drives over a cliff, or crashes into oblivion... these mad dreams play out in his head.. It's just fantastic!
Sidenote: I wonder if the thought ever occured to.. well.. anyone... that Flirting With Time would be the perfect Roger McGuinn single. Right? Right!! Still could be. To me, there's something about that whole song that is very Back From Rio in quality and atmosphere. There's even that famous McGuinn RIC sounding guitar there (at about 1:42 min) to prove my point. FWT is not even among my favorites of Tom's, mind you, or even of this album. The verse is fantastic, by all means, but the chorus, somehow, being it vibe or structure I don't quite know, isn't the best match for Tom, as I see it, it losing in gravity somehow. It got some Wilbury element to it as well.. but I guess that is just what we can call the "Jeff-chakra" shining through, the way it so often does. But still.. it was enough to make me realize who could take this song some place... Roger! Roger that.
*To put Home in Jack's place would - as I see it - have been a clever move in many dimensions. One, it's a better song, both in terms of composition and in terms of the production dynamics. Two, it would help increase the energy level of the album a little. Three, the energy balance of the album would be better, in that Home would indirectly make Saving Grace a lot better opening song, the flow and dynamic of the album a lot more in line with the ride that SG seem to promise the listener.