Chances are the Mojo that Tom Petty refers to on his new album is the type that flows from a group of seasoned musicians who have worked together for decades. Put them into one room, facing each other, sans technical accoutrements and with great new songs and what you get is pure and natural music making.
Mojo is the first album from Petty and The Heartbreakers since 2003’s The Last DJ. It sure sounds like the guys were ready to get back together as they pour through the catalog of great American music, wringing out a mix of rock, blues, and country.
Beginning with “Jefferson Jericho Blues” Petty audaciously equate the relationship between President Jefferson and Sally Hemmings with his own issues with women. That blues rocker rolls into the nearly 7 minute long jam “First Flash of Freedom” a track that sounds like a classic FM radio ballad of the 1970s, think Allman Brothers or early Steely Dan. Petty can still rock hard as indicated on the single “I Should Have Known” but many of these tracks take their languid time. “Running Man’s Bible”and “The Trip To Pirates’s Cove” offers guitarist Mike Campbell the chance to pull out his best blues licks. Campbell also co-produces Mojo with Petty and Ryan Ulyate.
Mojo is infused with southern imagery and pacing akin to a sticky, humid afternoon. Benmont Tench gets lots of opportunity to slide in soulful organ lines that might have escaped from a Muscle Shoals session. “U.S. 41” Petty’s slightly altered vocals, muffled harmonica, and lots of twang guitar, reminding the listener that when you’re playing southern rock your never far from country blues. “Taking My Time” is a flat-out blues number, ala, Buddy Guy. "Don't Pull Me Over" with it's reggae beat, is a throw-back to the band's hit "Breakdown" minus the muscle.
Mojo isn’t as strong as his last album with the Heartbreakers but it does indicate that there still is a lot of passionate work to be gleaned between these players and room to grow. Petty grew up listening to rock radio in Gainsville, Florida, influenced by Elvis Presley and now hosts his own XM radio program. I can’t help wondering if getting a chance to play other musician’s music hasn’t inspired Petty to do a bit of imitating or at least revisiting his roots.