Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers wallow in the blues on Mojo
By Ken Eisner
Georgia Straight — July 2, 2010
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | Mojo | (Reprise/Warner Brothers) |★★★★★
Tom Petty and his ever-lovin’ Heartbreakers deserve credit for keeping that late-sixties, early-seventies vibe going while other radio rockers succumbed to fashion fits. And if TP’s singles haven’t all had the timeless appeal of “Free Fallin’ “, he at least kept his Dylanesque boot heels a-jangling during many a synthetic season.
Like The Bob, our white-haired hero has never lost his taste for American roots music as a renewable resource. Which brings us to Mojo, the first Heartbreakin’ effort to wallow in the blues. The fact that it does so convincingly, over fifteen tunes lasting more than an hour, is pretty damn impressive.
Mostly recorded live, in the same room, the band prowls authoritatively through the diverse arenas of country blues, Chicago shuffle, and jam-band jazz, with hefty doses of British riff-rock thrown in. The most striking thing about the disc, however, isn’t genre or songcraft (although the latter is reliably strong) but the down-and-dirty guitar playing. Really, the record could have been credited to Mike Campbell and the Heartbreakers, because TP–never an endurance singer at the best of times–takes a back seat to his longtime axe-man on almost every cut.
The mild-mannered string-bender gets swamp-grungy on “Candy”, which sounds like Slim Harpo hanging out with Tony Joe White, and goes all Peter Green on us in “I Should Have Known It” and the closing “Good Enough” , with their piercing ’59 Les Paulisms. He also double-tracks soaring parts for extra Allman joy on “The Trip to Pirate’s Cove” and the album’s killer cut, the almost-seven-minute “First Flash of Freedom”.
Benmont Tench’s whooshing Hammond organ and cascading Fender Rhodes enliven those dreamy numbers, and elsewhere reinforce bracing excursions into reggae and trippy L.A. folk-rock invoking the Byrds and their more obscure Sunset trip cousins, Love and Spirit. But these aren’t artifacts exhumed for the sake of nostalgia or career revival. As the the 60-year-old leader sings, most soulfully, on the penultimate “Something Good Coming”, “I’m in it for the long run/wherever it goes. I’m an honest man/work’s all I know.” Nice work, Tom.