Petty has `Mojo' rising on new album.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Reprise)
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For Tom Petty, rock 'n' roll is both a saving grace and a divine tool and in its purest, unadulterated form, it is deeply embedded in the blues. And "Mojo" is very much his love letter to the music that took him from an abusive home and put him on the beaten path to becoming a rock star.
Petty - who's performing Aug. 19 and 21 at the Comcast Center in Mansfield - has always been a master when it comes to creating honest-to-goodness rock songs with catchy hooks and clever narratives. But who knew the 59-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer could convincingly channel the blues and his Heartbreakers were closet "bluesbreakers"?
Recorded live with minimal overdubbing, "Mojo" is a band effort in the truest sense of the term. Petty and his trusty Heartbreakers sound like a fine-tuned, well-oiled machine that purrs like a kitten and percolates with the precision of seasoned veterans. Along with Petty, lead guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Ron Blair, guitarist and harmonica player Scott Thurston and drummer Steve Ferrone are musicians that understand each other and play off each other's strengths. Not only do you feel the great chemistry, spontaneity and artistry of these masterful musicians, Petty's Heartbreakers give Springsteen's E Street Band a run for its money as the best backing band to play behind a mega rock star.
And thanks to "Mojo," Campbell, arguably one of the best unsung heroes of the rock guitar (and Petty's secret weapon for years), will no longer be unsung. Wailing on a 1959 Les Paul Sunburst (which is credited as the catalyst for this record), Campbell evokes the spirits of vintage rock `n' roll blues masters Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, John Mayall and Peter Green (in their respective '60s heydays) as he takes center stage.
Petty chronicles Thomas Jefferson's fondness for "creepin' out to the servant's shack" for a late-night booty call on the leadoff track, "Jefferson Jericho Blues." With his indelible Southern drawl, Petty, in the guise of our fraternizing Founding Father, shrugs, "Well, she ain't no good for me/But I just can't let go." Underneath the salacious subject matter is a song about how the heart wants what the heart wants, despite social taboos, potential consequences or how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise. With Petty and Campbell's strutty, snarly guitar playing erupting in unison with Thurston's blistering harmonica licks, this is the first of many lively and dynamic jaunts deeply immersed in the blues and indebted to blues torchbearers (in this case, The Allman Brothers). On top of that, the tune is an irresistible hoot.
"First Flash of Freedom" is an incendiary blues number clocking in at nearly seven minutes (but feeling half that).With a Neil Young earnestness, Petty sings about how "love hits us hard like an overdue train." When words aren't enough, Petty lets the music to do the talking, whether it be a full-body jam session or hired-gun Campbell scorching his fret-board with a fiery solo.
Petty confronts his abusive father and runs down his dream on the "dark highway" on the autobiographical rock 'n' roll survival guide "Running Man's Bible." Dedicated "...to glory and survival and stayin' alive," the veteran rocker pours out his innermost thoughts while a classic blend of howling guitar licks and whistling Hammond organ chords add to the rich, human experience.
In the school of hard knocks, Petty is an upperclassman, as evident on the unabashed road trip set to music, "The Trip to Pirate's Cove." Feeling invincible and ready to take on the world, a youthful Petty sings, "We were flying close to heaven/Everything was starting to glow/Drivin' into sunset/Rollin' 'cause we had to roll." Before song's end, an older, wiser Petty urges, "Boy you've got to stay in the game/Yeah, you got to let it ride/Or you've only got yourself to blame," words of advice that have obviously served him well.
Besides being unlike anything Petty and the Heartbreakers have ever recorded, "I Should Have Known It" sounds like a newly unearthed Led Zeppelin classic, down to the heartbreaking antagonist and the heavy-duty blues-rock strut. While Petty is snarling, "It's the last time you're gonna hurt me," Campbell erupts in snarly, Jimmy Page-worthy riffs and solos that sound like it has the power to singe your ear hairs through your speakers. This is certainly not the last time you're gonna hear this instant classic.
On the bluesy, blue-collar opus "U.S. 41," Petty weaves together a series of working-class vignettes unfolding on a stretch of highway that runs from Michigan to Miami. Singing three-generations of working man blues, Petty muses, "All my life's been workin'/Out the door and gone/Got to make that overtime/Keep on movin' on." Shifting from sparse acoustic to bluesy electric, Petty's storytelling lyrics are rich in details and emotion, and you never doubt for a second his fondness for those who have their nose to the grindstone.
Petty is scared to death about what waits for him at the crossroad of his life on the heavy stomping, blues boogie, "Takin' My Time." Mustering up his inner Muddy Waters, Petty looks back on his life and concludes, "When I was a young boy/Honey my fuse was lit." If this is burning out, count me in.
The album closer, "Good Enough," continues Petty's endless love affair with the free-spirited American girl and his study of what makes her tick.
Incorporating the indelible, bellowing guitar line from the Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" in an inspired blues jam, the song is more than a good enough way to end a dynamite record.
Key to the Stars
* * * *... Hot Stuff
* * *...... Good Job
* *......... Not Bad
*............ Never Mind
CUTLINE: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' latest album is "Mojo."