Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - MOJO

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It’s not that I wrote Tom Petty off.  His first few albums all those years ago had catchy singles, but I just lost interest.  Since then, I’ve enjoyed his songs on the radio, but there’s been nothing to suggest I should revisit his work from the ‘90’s forward.  His Super Bowl halftime gig last year did nothing to convert me... as if a Super Bowl performance could.

One of the great things about Napster (now a unit of Best Buy) is that I can listen to most new releases beyond the 30 second snippets that sites like Amazon provide (for which I pay a subscription).  As a result, I might try artists with funny names, CDs with interesting artwork, or in Tom Petty’s case, artists to whom I once paid attention. Which brought me to Tom Petty - MOJOhis newly released CD, MOJO.  It took only one listen  for me to decide that I needed to invest $9.99 for the real product, mp3 hater that I am.

Petty has reportedly been immersed in the blues over the past decade, and it shows on this release.  Ah, the blues… Will it be the formulaic approach of “woe is me” lyrics over a too familiar chord progression?   That’s not the case here, and, in short, while Petty writes and delivers well enough, it’s The Heartbreakers that make this record worth a listen. 

MOJO is the release of a mature band.  To some, that likely suggests that they lack the exuberance of youth, and it’s true that there is little here that drips testosterone.  The point, rather, is that they’ve grown not just in their mastery of their instruments, but, more importantly, how they should work with each other.   Benmont Tench’s keyboards provide much of the good vibes to be found here, which are further shaped by Mike Campbell’s sterling guitar work.  This isn’t just Tom Petty and a backing band.  Both band members have guest appeared on others’ recordings for many years and are recognized for their talents. 

This is a particularly well crafted album.  Instruments and vocals don’t crowd each other for aural space, and everything comes together to suit the style of each song.  This is notable as the album was reportedly developed without demos and played live by the band when recorded.  That’s not to say that every song is perfect.

The first song, “Jefferson Jericho Blues,” despite an entertaining lyric, is a misfire to my ears, repetitive with a blaring harmonica that annoys.  The only true, mistake, however, is “Don’t Pull Me Over,” a reggae song which, … well, all artists should understand that a reggae song on a non-reggae album is simply a misfit.  It’s inexcusable that someone wasn’t brave enough to stand up and shout “No!” at its inclusion.  And those aren’t my only complaints.  Petty is good at affecting his vocals, but “Candy” is a bit overdone with retro-Southern, and there really is no reason to lean even more towards Dylan’s nasal-ese on “No Reason to Cry.”  But, still, there’s 15 songs here, and the other 11 make for a more than solid purchase.

“First Flash of Freedom” is an extended, trippy, song that eventually recalls the Allman Brothers.  And other artists are echoed at times.  “I Should Have Known It” echoes Led Zep, “Takin’ My Time” recalls the guitar of early Jeff Beck Group, “Running Man’s Bible” mirrors the blues approach adopted by Dylan in his last several releases, and even “Good Enough” sounds a bit like a reworked “She’s So Heavy” by the Beatles.  None of those influences can be faulted, but each song stands fine without those comparisons, as do the others on the CD.

Someone looking for “old Petty” won’t be happy with this CD, but it remains a testament to a band that is comfortable with their ability and seeks to make the best music they can.  

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Recommended Songs: “U.S. 41,” “Lover’s Touch,” “Good Enough”

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