Tom Petty has finally sold his soul to the devil and given up his fight against the corporatization of the modern concert industry and his hope of keeping ticket prices fair for his fans. Petty has come to terms with the Ticketmaster/Live Nation behemoth and formed a merchandising agreement. The good news is then, that the purchase of a ticket to any performance on this summer’s tour (with ticket prices reaching as high as $132, before service fees) will include a digital download of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ new CD, Mojo.
It’s the first CD Petty has recorded with the Heartbreakers in eight years. Apparently, working with Mudcrutch had an affect on him, as Mojo is a blues drenched record (hence—the play on words in the lead). Petty’s songs, especially those of his early work with the Heartbreakers, have always been infused with Southern rock and blues bravado, and longtime followers will certainly take comfort in the same bluesy swagger on Mojo. Moreover, it was recorded mostly live, with very few overdubs. What you hear is what the band played in the studio, in a single take.
The mid-album triple shot is as straight-ahead blues as Petty and the band have ever written. “I Should Have Known It” is a heavy, bloozy rocker, with wailing and flogging guitar, a close cousin to Petty’s classic British blues-rock heroes. “U.S. 41” and “Take My Time” ply into 12-bar blues and Deep South traditionalism; acoustic guitar, low wage jobs in the lumber yard up the state route worked by both father and son on the former; a slowed down tempo and Muddy Waters like stomp on the latter, which is really the only cut that seems out of place for Petty and the Heartbreakers as it is just to much of a old timey, blues romp. The slow, country-tinged, sweet lovers ballad “No Reason to Cry” is laced with sentimental, steel guitar, while “Lover’s Touch” is a low down, aching for my baby blues. “Let Yourself Go” is a Howlin’ Wolf style shuffle and is every bit as fun as it’s title suggests.
The band offers some of the best songs of their career on Mojo, both lyrically and musically. There’s the good time, foot-shuffling funk of opener “Jefferson Jericho Blues”, full of rattling piano and guitar, as well as rolling harmonica harmony. It’s a story song of “poor Tom Jefferson” and his miscegenation affair with the “little maid out back”. “First Flash of Freedom” changes gear dramatically, nodding to the bands double bill tour several summers ago with the Allman Brothers Band. At nearly seven minutes in length and with a musical intro that takes them a full minute-and-a-half into the song before lyrics, it’s their foray into the dual guitars and swirling keyboards of psychedelic jam rock.
Two cuts in particular stand out as late night, headphone stoner rock, and as two of the best of the 15 here. The slow, sultry groove of “The Trip to Pirates Cove” is the telling of a trip, literally of being on the road and of the trippy, “rolling cause we had to roll”. Amidst slow, reeling guitars of Mike Campbell, interwoven with Benmont Tench’s elegant keyboard waves, the song’s protagonists lose a wheel on their Defender and then stop and party with some hotel maids. Something evidently goes wrong as the sheriffs say they’d book them, but they don’t have a case. So off the boys go again, driving into sunset towards Mendocino where it’s “close to harvest time”. Later, on “Don’t Pull me Over,” the same keys and guitars are again interwoven, albeit this time with a jammy, reggae groove. A working class dad, maybe the same character from “...Pirates Cove”, with mouths to feed makes his way home to his family, fearing the ramifications of being pulled over due to the satchel he’s got tucked into his pocket: “Don’t pull me over / Let me pass on by, Don’t pull me over / Should be legalized,” he solemnly pines.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers certainly got back their MoJo working on this new album. It has some of the most well-written songs he’s released since at least as far back as 1985’s Southern Accents and, song for song, it maybe the finest recording of the band’s career. Now pushing nearly 60, one of classic rocks pioneers shows no signs of becoming a nostalgia act.