Mojo

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

And now for something completely different. Instead of tasking other sources to gauge my feelings for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 2010 release Mojo, I chose to give the 15-song CD (also on Blu-ray) an undiluted dry run without any preconceived notions whatsoever.

OK…hmmm.

I spun it again.

It sounds way better on a stereo than a PC, as it should. Better yet: It transcends fidelity by framing a majority of its songs in simple, blues-based patterns. The second and third time around, it gets a little muddier, deeper and starts to dig at the soul. Petty has that ability in his songwriting and performance style, and he isn't about to give up the fight.

It’s been four years since the last studio album and lots of stuff has happened. Full-on retrospectives, a five-hour Peter Bogdanovich documentary, and a left-turn with Mudcrutch. That little trip back to pre-Heartbreakers days definitely left an impression as the music on Mojo flows easily, lazily, drawling, at times meandering — somehow formulated into cohesive, poetic rock n' roll hymns.

It starts out innocently enough on “Jefferson Jericho Blues,” a harmonica-driven mood-setter for the loose and lively tone to follow. A slow blues builds the rampaging rhythm of “First Flash Of Freedom,” capturing the true essence of Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench. This is one that comfortably settles into an Allman Brothers mid-stream shuffle and surely deserves a spot on the set list. I should have known something rubbed off when I saw Petty, Campbell and Tench on stage with ABB last summer.

“Running Man’s Bible” and its whiplash refrain make you want to twist and shout and will surely empty the beer line. The album stays in a bluesy vein on “The Trip To Pirate’s Cove” and “Candy” before sauntering out to the country on “No Reason To Cry.” The pedal steel is still lingering in my head as Petty intones “Lead me on and wish me well/There’s no reason to cry..” Definitely some genre-jumping possibilities with this one.

It’s all about punching holes on “I Should Have Known It.” A Stonesy-Crowesy kind of roller, the riff is sticky sweet and the vocal never more assured and never better — Tom Petty is doing what a lot of his peers need to be doing — shaking it wild without remorse: “It’s the last time you’re gonna hurt me…”

The Delta comes alive on “Takin’ My Time” and Chicago goes home on “Let Yourself Go.” Out of nowhere come “Don’t Pull Me Over,” a reggae-flavored scooter and Petty and the Heartbreakers' best pro-drug song since “Girl On LSD.” We shift down for “Lover’s Touch” before recharging the momentum on “High In The Morning,” pushed along by Steve Ferrone’s in-the-clutch kick drum before Campbell rolls up his sleeves and rips up the melody with an aching solo, simmering over the hot lava of Tench’s double-layered Hammond and Rhodes mucho combo. Ahhhh...

In true Petty fashion, “Something Good Coming” wistfully turns a hardship into an opportunity. The band lays back, letting the lyrics unfold, “Somethin’ good comin’/There has to be,” before Campbell takes flight, bending the notes into emotional raindrops. Finishing up with the swaying blues of “Good Enough,” it’s easy to recognize that this band carries on like a well-oiled mechanism that’s never going to sputter out and die.

So I peaked at the press release and it says Mojo is the twentieth release, including live albums and retrospectives, from Tom Petty, mostly with the Heartbreakers. When you look back at such a body of work, it’s hard to find few, if any, oinkers in the bunch (I loved his much-loathed The Last DJ). To that end, Mojo is at once accessible, alarmingly challenging, and worthy of a place on the mantel. That’s what makes the great ones great.

~ Shawn Perry

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