Remember albums? Those classic discs that contained the newest collections of songs from your favorite artists… you’d grab a bottle of wine and sit for a while to experience the work in its entirety (something that is totally lost on the MP3 generation). Well, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have delivered us a real album, classic and timeless, and its name is Mojo.
Mojo kicks off with “Jefferson Jericho Blues,” a rolling jaunt over Highway 61 with the car radio tuned to a blues station out of Chicago. Thomas Jefferson and his mistress Sally are along for the ride. Scott Thurston’s blues harp blends perfectly with Mike Campbell’s and Petty’s guitars; in fact, Thurston’s harp and Campbell’s lead guitar have never sounded better.
Campbell channels some Hendrix (and a touch of Robby Krieger) on “First Flash of Freedom,” a spacey ride through lyrical gems like, “A fistful of glory, a suitcase of sin/The language you dream in when you count to ten/You go to the edge but you always give in….” Punctuated by Benmont Tench’s Hammond B3 work and some tasty harmony guitar solos, “Flash” invites you to just sit back and enjoy the nearly seven-minute trip.
“Running Man’s Bible” is not so much a celebration but rather an acknowledgement of lasting through hard times while still maintaining some sense of self and morality, although survival is the ever-overriding concern. Campbell and Tench shine again.
Seat belts aren’t necessary because time slows way down on “The Trip to Pirate’s Cove.”
Imagine being a passenger in a car traveling five miles per hour, even as the world outside goes by at light speed. Such is the feeling one gets from the way the vocal echoes in the music slow down the lyrical imagery of a strange trip where “She was a part of my heart, but now she’s just a line on my face.” This is a classic Tom Petty story song.
“I Should Have Known It” kicks off Mojo’s impressive middle section with a blast of guitars and drums that would have been right at home on Led Zeppelin IV. “Thanks for nothin’/Yeah, thanks a lot/Go ahead, baby/Take all I got,” Petty sneers at the person who done him wrong, resolving, “That’s the last time you’re gonna hurt me.” This is one of my favorites, and it just rocks.
Blues with a decidedly southern touch comes in the form of “U.S. 41,” a song that one can easily imagine being played on the front porch of a tin-roofed shack somewhere in northern Florida. The old-time feel is enhanced by the effect on Tom’s voice that makes him sound as if he’s being played on an old 78 RPM disc on a Gramophone.
Robert Cray-style R&B-influenced blues rock is the style of the message song “High in the Morning,” the lyrical successor to The Last DJ’s “When a Kid Goes Bad.” Mike Campbell’s stinging licks punctuate the point that Petty is driving home.
“Something Good Coming” is another of my favorites on an album of standout songs, a slow-picked guitar number that again features Campbell’s understated yet elegant slide guitar. The song’s message offers up a ray of hope during troubled times, and I know a lot of listeners will relate.
Many reviewers have already made comparisons of “Good Enough” to Abbey Road-era Beatles. It’s a compliment, as this is one of the best songs the Heartbreakers have ever recorded, certain to be a standout in the band’s recorded legacy. The song’s slow blues explodes with some of the best guitar work Mike Campbell has ever committed to tape (well, disc). “Gods bless this land, God bless this whisky/I can’t trust love, it’s far too risky,” is a great line in an album full of the best lyrics that Petty may have ever written.
Recorded live in the band’s rehearsal space, Mojo is perhaps the Heartbreakers’ masterwork as a band. Petty’s singing has never sounded better. After 34 years together for the four original members: Petty, Campbell, Tench, and bassist Ron Blair (plus 20 years for Scott Thurston and 15 for drummer Steve Ferrone), this band is firing on all cylinders and has most certainly found its own mojo. Currently on tour (and hopefully continuing to play as many Mojo songs as possible), Petty and the band continue to create and perform at the top of their game. Let’s hope that the Heartbreakers have a few more albums in them, because it sounds like they’re really just cranking into high gear.
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Congratulations are in order to my alma mater, the University of South Carolina. My old school’s baseball team won the College World Series this past week and are the NCAA National Champions. Go Cocks!
– John Bartus is a singer/songwriter and former Mayor of the City of Marathon. Currently serving on the Board of Directors of the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce, John plays this Friday (tonight) at Dockside, and Saturday at the Key Colony Inn. Sunday (July 4th) John plays with Storm Watch at Sombrero Beach. Wednesday finds John at Cabana Breezes, and Thursday, John plays at Sparky’s Landing. www.johnbartus.com.