Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have always stuck to their guns. Mojo, the bands latest release and first album since 2002’s The Last DJ, was recorded live in their suburban Los Angeles recording studio, with minimal over-dubs, and nary a day spent on each track. The band doesn’t bother with modern sounds or worry themselves with appearing fresh and cutting-edge, instead they hone in on their famous Americana style, and add a heavy touch of rusty blues, filtering classic Petty MO through a blend of Allman Brothers, John Lee Hooker, and Little Walter.
This may be the most all-inclusive Heartbreakers record yet. Petty told Rolling Stone, in reference to the band, “We’re joined in the cause. We respect the band as more important than our individual problems, and we’re getting along ridiculously well. It’s disgusting to see old men so happy.” And focusing on the band may be the best move for Petty at this stage in his career; the happiness and one-for-all vibe come easily noticed on Mojo. The band is laid back, having fun, and locked-in. Mike Campbell reigns supreme as one of the most underrated guitarists in classic rock, Scott Thurston lays down beautifully executed rhythm guitar work, keyboardist/harpist Benmont Tench adds tasteful accents all over the place, with drummer Steve Ferrone and bassist Ron Blair chugging along in the background.
Opening track “Jefferson Jericho Blues” is a raucous square dance number, heavy on harmonica and pedal steel, and reminiscent of The Basement Tapes. “First Flash of Freedom” is a seven-minute jam with a warm, swaying melody and Duane Allman-inspired fret work. “Running Man’s Bible” is classic Petty, a radio-friendly, steady paced blues number loaded with smooth guitar interplay and an exuberant chorus. The slow songs are particularly captivating, “No Reason to Cry” is a lugubrious acoustic number about love lost, “Something Good Coming” is a spirited and subdued balled about existential crisis. The country/blues direction is heavy on tracks like “Let Yourself Go”, “I Should Have Known It”, “Takin’ My Time”, and “U.S. 41”.
If any song has a chance of reaching the canonical status of “Refugee”, “Won’t Back Down”, or any of the other classic Petty songs ingrained in the American psyche, it’d have to be the infectious California-blues number “The Trip to Pirate’s Cove” a song about, well, driving down the road – typical Petty subject matter. It’s also the first of two songs where Petty references the marijuana trade, “I got a friend in Mendocino/And it’s gettin’ close to harvest time,” before the first ever Heartbreakers foray into reggae with “Don’t Pull Me Over,” a mellow, half baked track about driving down the road (again) and getting pulled over by a cop, “What I’ve got to do won’t hurt anyone/When the moonlight turns to blue light/Makes me so afraid/So let me go/Leave me ‘lone/’til I’m home and safe/Don’t pull me over let me pass on by/Don’t pull me over/Should be legalized,” making it apparent that Petty still enjoys the occasional dance with Mary Jane. But more importantly, Mojo on the whole is a testament to the staying power of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and a familiar reminder of the Petty we all know so well.