Song: “Southern Accents”

Dolly Parton pays tribute to her friend, and delivers a powerhouse performance in the process.

A new tribute album devoted to the songs of Tom Petty called Petty Country: A Country Music Celebration of Tom Petty is being released June 21st. Contributors include many who knew and admired Petty — Chris Stapleton, Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson, George Strait, and many more across 20 songs.

  • Wynonna Judd and Lainey Wilson performing “Refugee”? Sign me up!

Songs are being released one-by-one to generate awareness and interest. Last week, another Petty friend and admirer — the great Dolly Parton — released a version of Petty’s song, “Southern Accents.”

The title song of his 1985 album, Petty had this to say about it:

That may be my favorite among my songs — just in terms of a piece of pure writing. I remember writing it very vividly. It was in the middle of the night, and I was playing it on the piano at home in Encino. I was just singing into my cassette recorder and suddenly these words came out. . . . I came from a real Southern family, and I wanted to address that world.

The song is personal in another way — Petty’s mother Katherine died in 1980. He mentions her in the lines:

There’s a dream I keep having
Where my mama comes to me
And kneels down over by the window
And says a prayer for me

The overall theme proved difficult to execute across an album, and its major hit — the synth-driven “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” complete with a famous Alice in Wonderland video — is indicative of how the initial vision was sacrificed.

The difficulty may have been caused by Petty’s fraught relationship with the South — tough memories of family strife, racism, and poverty. He was one of the first artists to stop using Confederate flag imagery, for instance, and lived most of his life in California.

Other covers of this song — Johnny Cash’s 1996 version in which he was backed by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and another by Charles Kelley with honorary Heartbreaker Stevie Nicks — have also proven popular.

Parton’s interpretation is a tour de force both musically and visually. With film clips of Petty in concert and at home, memorabilia from his life at hand, and an arrangement that takes us from nostalgia to remorse to defiance to joy and finally to resolution — all with Parton’s amazing voice and style leading the way — this one is worth multiple viewings.

You might just get a lump in your throat.