Tom Petty: Got the Mojo working...

When Back To Basics Is A Good Thing
By JC Costa

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Warner Bros. Reprise

So Tom Petty recorded a new studio album, named it Mojo and had most everyone in the western hemisphere either miss the point completely or casually dismiss it into the classic oldies bin with barely an afterthought.

All too typical given the tendency of most rock music critics to cling to their fading/faded youth, Gaga-relevance and spur-of-the-moment fizz for dear life, especially when confronted by maturation, introspection, hard work and the lasting American values which we’re all supposed to live up to but don’t.

Hell yes, Mojo is basic as basic gets. Familiar I-IV-V chord progressions banging against doom-ey, compelling riffs and tight, purposeful solos; spare, meaningful lyrics with just a touch of nuance, and a full, natural recorded sound where you can hear the gentle ululation of vintage amplifier tremolo or drumhead reverberation hang in the air as the track fades out.

The Making of Mojo, documentary directed by Sam Jones. Petty: ‘I feel more pressure to have something that feels pure to me. I’m just trying to make some good music that I like. And I always have gone on the principle that if I like it, maybe somebody else will.’

Petty, working with Mike Campbell––his oldest partner in crime and one of the very best guitarists working today––Benmont Tench (piano and organ), Scott Thurston (harmonica and guitar), Ron Blair (bass) and the ever impeccable Steve Ferrone on drums, has created an exceptional rock and roll album graced by early classics such as “The Trip To Pirate Cove,” “First Flash of Freedom,” “U.S. 41,” “I Should Have Known It,” “Lover’s Touch” and “Good Enough” to name a few.

My first impression of the opening tracks “Jefferson Jericho Blues” and “First Flash of Freedom” was like listening to a really good new Allman Brothers Band album, because Mojo is steeped in the steamy swamp lore, redneck roots and dual-guitar fire of north central Florida that spawned both bands.

“Jefferson Jericho Blues” kicks off with double-tracked guitar and harmonica, a staple on the eternal Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East, riffing around a tongue-in-cheek reflection on indiscretion and heartbreak all the way back to Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings.

“First Flash of Freedom,” one of two Petty/Campbell collaborations, pushes the minor chord air-cushion for guitar improvisation concept beyond “Dreams,” the jam band perennial from Greg Allman with more complex variations, movements and resolutions punctuated by intense and thoughtful solos within full use of the expanded tonal palette implicit in his ’59 Gibson Les Paul Standard, one of the most desirable electric guitars in existence, and you’ll understand why after listening to this album.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, ‘Jefferson Jericho Blues,’ from Mojo: ‘… riffing around a tongue-in-cheek reflection on indiscretion and heartbreak all the way back to Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings.’

Further on, “The Trip To Pirates Cove,” a hypnotic and moody reminiscence of what might or might not have been a better time many years ago on a trip to Northern California, ranks as one of Petty’s very best. “Candy,” another inside joke, builds a testament to atavistic redneck behavior such as “driving an Eldorado around the cornfields/with my little baby by my side” on top of a purposeful Jimmy Reed shuffle.

“U.S. 41” starts out on dry and dusty back roads acoustic with Tom’s nasal vocals through the megaphone effect about hard times back home in Florida, then the morphs into a modern-sounding shuffle with Campbell’s glassine slide commenting alongside. “I Should Have Known It” has a distinct Zeppelin feel in the principal riff and asymmetrical chord resolve with big beat a la John Bonham before the triumphant chord progression that powers the ride out.

And yes, there are more negligible offerings as well. “Takin’ My Time” and the much maligned reggae self-parody “Don’t Pull Me Over” come to mind, but even the lower profile ballad “No Reason to Cry,” “Let Yourself Go” and “Lover’s Touch” have much to commend them.

“High In The Morning” hits close to home for those who’ve struggled with dependence on alcohol and other substances, especially those whose family fought the same battles. “Something Good Coming” is hopeful and forthright, the best of what this country’s supposedly always been about and “Good Enough” brings everything to a close with the final realization that whatever works in the short run will probably do just fine for most of us.

Not for Tom Petty though. He’s pretty much always brought his A game and Mojo is no exception.

Tom Petty & The Hearbreakers’ Mojo is available at

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