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We Got Lucky: Kevin Devine And Petal's Kiley Lotz Sculpt A Perfect Tribute To Tom Petty

Tuesday, 02 October 2018 Written by Huw Baines

It’s one year since we said we’d see Tom Petty somewhere along the road, and it’s still a bitter one to swallow. We’ve had time to accept that there’s a full stop to his story, and to understand our relationship with his music in a new context, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

Last week a huge stack of unreleased and unfinished material was rolled out by his estate as ‘An American Treasure’. On-the-nose title aside, it does its job nicely. Petty sounds great on the ones we know, and irritatingly good on the ones he chose to shelve. At 63 songs, it feels like a time capsule or a scholarly article on something of historical value.

Nestled next to it is a low key proposition that offers another perspective on his legacy by diving in and creating something new from it. The latest edition of Kevin Devine’s split singles series finds him joined by Petal’s Kiley Lotz, who reworks You Got Lucky, a hit single from 1982’s criminally underrated ‘Long After Dark’.

Devine’s side is a take on the title track from the following decade’s ‘Into The Great Wide Open’ and someone out there (not me, honest) will find something fun in the idea of a couple of Petty’s songs getting in under the wire ahead of a larger body of work.

It's happened a lot in the last 12 months, but covering Petty is still a weird vibe. His voice and style of performance were entirely his own. Many of his moves were hokey. He was a seriously cool man who, in reality, had no business being that cool. Both Lotz and Devine succeed in picking away that lacquer to reveal some of the truth underneath (I say some of it because, let’s face it, icons are always fundamentally unknowable, and Petty chose his words carefully).

Lotz pares back You Got Lucky to reveal its wiry frame. In this staging, with her mesmerising vocal backed only by a spare, clean electric guitar, it’s not willing to support the bravado of the original, so the sadness behind Petty’s lyric is plain to see. “Good love is hard to find,” Lotz sings. The next line is now less a smirk and more of a barb: “You got lucky, babe, when I found you.”

In her own music, Lotz excels in this sort of setting. Even her full-band numbers, which are invariably ringing indie-rock songs with soaring hooks, have the emotional heft to leave things open-ended. She rarely ties a neat bow around a message but Devine's writing, broadly speaking, is more earnest.

In 1991, when ‘Into The Great Wide Open’ was released, he was a few years older than the Mets-loving Brooklyn kid he immortalised on I Was Alive Back Then, the closing song from 2016’s ‘Instigator’. At that age, Petty would have appeared to him as an outsized pop-rock megastar in a wide-brimmed hat. Like so many, by that point he’d wanted (and got) his MTV.

Devine’s version of the song plays up its chiming acoustic chords and harmonies, drafting a new look that emphasises the gentle movements of Petty’s mid-period material. His voice is perfectly suited to the task, opening the floor to a reading of the song that is a fitting hat tip to someone you miss.

In a recent interview segment over at the Talkhouse, the duo spoke about why Petty became the subject of this release. Lotz’s thoughts on the matter say a lot about the space he vacated a year ago. “I just think he’s one of those really prolific and interesting artists, because he does have a body of work, and I think he was someone who was willing to admit his mistakes, which I really love,” she said.

“[He was] willing to grow and [had an] understanding, as someone who has a public relevancy and persona, that there is some responsibility there. He was willing to acknowledge that. I think that’s important. I think everybody has one memory associated with a Tom Petty song.”

It’s imperative, with that idea of responsibility in hand, that artists keep trying to understand their own output in a similar fashion. But it’s also worth remembering that these lost giants (and they’re mounting up) will continue to have a say. It’s for the best that we keep making memories with Petty's music, whether that's the Menzingers writing another middle eight seeking to replicate his mythical formula or the Gaslight Anthem shouting out 'Southern Accents' to a packed festival crowd.

That desire to keep things tangible is precisely how Devine and Lotz have been able to construct such a nuanced tribute: they didn’t feel the need to temper their own experiences when conversing with these songs. Petty’s shadow is long, but it shouldn’t obscure the musicians operating in it. After all, you only really die the last time anybody says your name.

You Got Lucky b/w Into The Great Wide Open is out now.

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