BEST NEW INDIE: THE LUMINEERS - WALLS
The Lumineers honor The Heartbreaker himself with their cover of "Walls," in commemoration of the 1-year anniversary of Tom Petty's death.
Tom Petty may be best remembered for his '70s and '80s material, with a nearly unstoppable run of timeless singles fronting The Heartbreakers. You don't hear quite as much about his '90s albums and singles, despite the fact he was working with some of the music industry's biggest names. In the case of "Walls," Petty was collaborating with Rick Rubin, in-between producing Slayer and Sir Mix-A-Lot. Recorded for the She's The One soundtrack, "Walls" came out several years before Rick Rubin would come to fruition as one of the most in-demand producers in the biz.
Had "Walls" been released a few years later, it's easy to imagine it would've made a bigger splash, with its inclusion of Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham on backing vocals. If it'd come out even 4 years later, would Tom Petty have enjoyed a mainstream breakout in popularity, like Johnny Cash's American Sessions, which Rubin also produced?
Revisionist history aside, many folk music aficionados have a long and storied relationship with Tom Petty's music, of all eras. The Lumineers' singer and guitarist Wesley Schultz has a long love affair with "Walls." His wife walked down the aisle to the single, for starters. This long-standing appreciation caused Schultz to pick "Walls" for a stripped-down acoustic performance at 2017's MusiCares Person Of The Year gala, after opening for Petty on a handful of dates. Tom Petty declared his appreciation for the acoustic ballad just a few months before accidentally overdosing on painkillers.
To honor the anniversary of Tom Petty's passing, The Lumineers return with an authentic recording of "Walls." It is to both The Lumineers and the song's credit that they don't over-produce the original to death. Schultz's warm, reedy vocals are accompanied by barely-there sparse acoustic guitar chords, which are fleshed out with the barest tip-taps of tambourine, some swelling accordion straight out of R.E.M. Unplugged, and some of the most gorgeous close harmonies you'll hear this year.
THE LUMINEERS - WALLS
For all of its rootsiness, "Walls" doesn't sound like something from a backyard jam or your local bluegrass festival. Schultz's vocals shimmer with a subtle aura of reverb that brings to mind the first couple of My Morning Jacket records. If anyone's been craving the time before Jim James became a '70s funk prog rocker, here's some new jams for your acoustic indie playlists.
Sometimes the most subtle sentiments are the most striking. It can be hard to exactly define what a musician means to us, especially with someone as legendary as Tom Petty. How many people had their first kiss to "I Won't Back Down"? Who has driven around and caught a buzz to "Free Fallin”? Trying to pin down the legacy of a musician with a decades-long discography in four minutes is like trying to describe your entire existence in that same amount of time.
Instead, you need to listen through the cracks, read between the lines. Hear the stressing burr of Wesley Schultz's Tom Petty impersonation, which conveys some of the love and loss of someone's untimely passing while still maintaining Tom Petty's laid-back sense of humor and down-home funkiness.
All proceeds from "Walls" will go to help support MusiCares, a non-profit organization that helps musicians get medical treatment they need. We Are: The Guard miss Tom Petty, here in the wake of his death. But The Lumineers remind us that life goes on, that shadows are always accompanied by light, and that a big heart can overcome any obstacles.
J. Simpson occupies the intersection between criticism, creativity, and academia. Based out of Portland, Or., he is the author of Forestpunk, an online journal/brand studying the traces of horror, supernatural, and the occult through music, fashion and culture. He plays in the dreamfolk band Meta-Pinnacle with his partner Lily H. Valentine, with whom he also co-founded Bitstar Productions, a visual arts collective focused on elevating Pop Culture to High Art.